"Watch your heads, and sit down over there," said Grandma, motioning to a large trunk beneath the musty slants of the attic eaves. And then the storytelling began....

Antiques were folded into dusty boxes around us, their significance left unlabelled but for Grandma's remembering tales. I listened to the stories of my ancestors from the keepers of their treasures in that damp, dark haven where history and the future came together. And during those childhood hours in the attic, I would hear my calling—the.eternal quest for stories told and untold. I answer it still.
Musty smells and mothballs will take me there again, sitting on a box in my memory, enraptured. I hear knockin' on the attic as voices in my head—whispery phrases that need a turn, stories aching to be told, or simply memories wanting another moment of my time. When I hear that knockin', I know there's a voice to be heard and a story to be told. So, be careful on the ladder, watch your head on that beam, and have a seat on that trunk over there. Lean in, for I have some tales to share...

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy

Alright, gentlemen, the game’s up. I’m on to you. After years…years...of asking my husband to show me how to drive the lawn tractor so I could sometimes help him with the dreadful yard work, he finally showed me this morning. My first clue that something was amiss was when it took him exactly 93 seconds to tell me how everything worked. The rest became abundantly clear to me as I rode around my 2+ acres of yard, jamming to tunes on my iPod, soaking up the sunshine, smelling the sweet scent of newly mown grass, and oblivious to the rest of the world as I made straight line and circle patterns all around my property.

Mowing the yard is FUN!

It’s relaxing. It’s soothing. And with just a smidgen of imagination, you can pretend you’re driving a big Massey tractor, or a combine (which are both infinitely cooler and even more fun!!) and that you're tilling up the land. Yup, I get it. The tractor's sexy. And it just got a whole helluva lot sexier.  

Mr. French Charming? You got some s’plaining to do.

But since now I know the gig and have been so rude as to share it with the rest of the unsuspecting wives out there that are feeling guilty for their men working so hard on those tractors, I’ll be gracious enough to share one of our feminine secrets with you.

You know when we bitch and complain about how hard evenings are…dealing with dinner and dishes, tomorrow’s lunches, helping the kids with their various homework projects and sorting through the massive mountains of paperwork sent from school, making sure the kids get bathed, refereeing their arguments, and yelling at them to get them to go to bed (and stay there)…all while fencing calls from your mother (father/brother/buddy)? Know how we complain about how exhausted we are and couldn’t possibly do another load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, or have sex?

The truth is, we actually LOVE our evenings when you’re out of the house doing man-stuff. We really enjoy helping our kids reach their highest potential so they can succeed in life, keeping open communication with the teachers that adore our input in our children’s education and how they could better help our kids. What we’re really doing is playing with the kids…you know, trying to get a firm grasp of the wonderful world of Minecraft, watching Dora and Diego, learning about shapes and riddles…in Spanish…and giggling as we make Barbie and Ken change clothes and kiss each other. Our lovely children really do skip off to the tub and then to bed, singing happy clean-up songs without a word of protest because they’re such well-behaved children (obviously due to your fabulous discipline, honey! Thanks for doing that Loud-Man-Voice thing that really gets their attention…it totally helps when we need to them to do something for us and you’re outside doing man-stuff). And how else would we know that your dad put up 500 posters with your uncle for your cousin’s campaign, that the hitch parts he ordered for our car are the wrong ones so the installation appointment has been changed again, that it’s your turn to bring beer for after your ballgame, that your monthly fishing and hunting meeting is tomorrow night in the mancave/shack, and let you know your buddy is making wings for the hockey game you’re watching at his house, if we didn’t get the opportunity to chat with your mom (father/brother/buddy)? The truth is, we love the chance to talk to your mother (father/brother/buddy), plus we need our own special relaxing, soothing time to do our lady-stuff.

So, to be fair, I want to make a proposition. Let’s trade chores for a bit. I know how left out you feel, missing out on all of the prime bonding time with the kids. I know how you feel like you really don’t know what’s going on with the kids’ lives and school activities (I am so sorry I forgot to tell you about that choir concert/bake sale we had to go to last Thursday night…I know it was quite a shock when you’d planned on mowing the lawn before the rain came.). I understand you have a real passion for cooking and that watching Master Chef is so inspiring for you…if only you had the time to embrace your love of creating delicious, healthy meals. I don’t want to be greedy or selfish anymore. That’s been very unkind of me. I want you to have the opportunities I am granted each night, and every weekend: time to enjoy your children, relax with a good show, tinker around the kitchen with those spices you bought and the fresh veggies from the enormous garden you put in (seriously, we could open a veggie stand to sell all of those lovely organic foods you have worked so hard to nurture and grow, but that our 5 appetites can’t possibly eat enough of!). So, I would love to take over that horrible lawn mowing nonsense you’ve put up with for years and years. You’ve given us so much of yourself and your time, taking care of your family…providing a beautiful yard and sumptuous garden to feed us. I want to let you enjoy some of the things us women have secretly coveted for years. So, you sit down, put up your feet, and negotiate Netflix choices with your children while I go mow the lawn.

But before you get comfy, dear, can you grab me a beer…hell, make it two, all those acres are gonna take awhile to get ‘er done…while I go fire up the tractor?!

What do you mean, why am I wearing my bikini? I just don’t want to get anymore clothes dirty with all of that grass…I wouldn't want to add to your laundry pile. I want you rested and in a good mood so when I get done and come in, I can take advantage of you. Heehee...wink, wink (slap on the ass).

You don’t have to thank me, luv. I just want to help. You’ve earned an evening without yard chores. You and the kids have fun...

I got this.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year = New Life

Happy New Year!

Goodbye, 2013.

 Hello 2014! It’s about freaking time.

Time to shake things up. Turn the world on its ear, give it a spin, then flop it onto its back for a good belly rub. Grumpy ol’ thing has been lying on the couch, licking wounds for too long, and it is past time to pull some new tricks out of the sleeves.

If you’re looking for resolutions about exercise, recommitting myself to my childhood religious upbringing, or giving up beer and belly dancing, you’ve got the wrong gal. I’m not here today to vow to stop speaking my mind, my truth, or about my feelings because it irritates someone else. No promises here to try harder to go with the flow and fit into this crowd or that. That shit goes against nature. My nature anyway. Besides, I’m starting to learn to accept the perfect mess I’ve spent 43 years becoming. It’s cool.

So, you may be asking what I’m here yapping about then, when you’re out there kissing your loved ones, and hugging the strangers next to you. Or what I could be doing at this late hour while you’re sleeping snug in your beds, oblivious to the parties the neighbors are having? I’ll tell ya. The truth is 2013 has not been my favorite year of them all. Don’t worry. I’m not going to dwell on last year’s news. It’s just been less than the most fun of all in the world forever. And that kinda sucked. So that brings us to this moment in time.

I’m prepping for a complete overhaul, folks. New year = new beginnings, and all that stuff, right? So, tonight—just moments ago—I took the first step in creating a new life for myself. New challenges, new people, new experiences. Out with the old, in with the new. Cliché? Perhaps. But true. I’m not messing around—anyone who knows me knows I don’t stick in a toe to test the water. I jump in and then see if I can figure out how to swim.

For example, I took a secret (read “unapproved by the parental unit”) vacation in my youth and ended up moving from Indiana to Florida 4 months later to go to college to become a zookeeper. I ended a marriage one month, and tackled open heart surgery in practically the next breath. I covered every possible angle of my lifelong dream to work with animals (zookeeping, wildlife rehabilitation, veterinary technician, and pets of course), and then walked away from it all 10 years later when I fell in  love with a French Canadian 5 years my junior. I “built” a family of friends living in Florida for many years, and then packed everything I could into a U-Haul, quit my jobs, and with no promises between us, I moved to upstate New York just so I could date the Frenchman ‘properly’ and see if we had a shot at a “real relationship” instead of the long distance “fantasy of a romance” we’d been playing at. I put my stuff in a storage unit, and spent 6 weeks looking for a job and a place to live. I talked my way into a preschool teaching job on charm, desperate desire, and my experience cleaning animal poop, and ended up as a head teacher within a year. And when my love proposed three years later, I immigrated into Canada and got married to a man a lot of people had told me was too young to truly commit (we’ve been working our way through his so-called “commitment issues” – 17 years and 3 kids later. Lol). And when I realized I had limited options (read “no”) for jobs living in the nation’s capital, because a) there is no zoo, b) preschool teachers are actually required to be certified, and c) I don’t speak, read, or write French in a town built on bilingualism, I decided to skip the whole job search stress thing and started my own business. I now own and operate a home daycare.

Nope, I don’t mess around. And after a few rather shocking jolts to my circumstance in that nasty year of 2013, I’m finally ready to try something new.

So just a few moments ago, I registered to study to become…(drum roll please)….a Doula.

Please don’t make that disappointed “Is that even a real thing? Because I’ve certainly never heard of it” noise. It’s rude. Just ask me. “What, Kelly, praytell, is a doula?”

Thank you for asking, kind people. Doulas are birth assistants, or birth companions. They are not midwives who actually deliver babies. A Birth Doula, or Labor Doula, provides emotional, physical, and mental support to a mother and her partner during labor and the birth of their child(ren). She assists the couple in education about the birthing process (some are birth educators as well), the choices available, and the different things that can or might occur through the process of birthing. She may help write a birth plan. At the birth, she acts as a liaison between doctors, nurses, and/or midwives, and makes sure the couple knows and understands what is going on. This allows the mother to focus more on the birth, and the partner to focus more on the mother. It is known as “mothering the mother.” The idea is that having the extra support at the birth allows the experience to be positive, magical, and wonderful for the mother and/or couple, reducing the stress and increasing the joy.  After the birth, the doula will usually stay around for a couple of hours to assist with breast or bottle feeding, make sure the mother’s needs are taken care of (that she’s brought food, is able to rest and recover, and mostly that she is allowed to bond with her baby). She will then visit a couple of times the first week or so postpartum.

Postpartum doulas assist the needs of the new family following the birth. They are there to make the transition to family life go a little smoother. They visit the family in the home, and can answer questions the family may have, provide a break (naptime!) for the parents, babysit older children, run errands, prepare meals, take care of pets, or take the mother and new baby to doctor check-ups. A lot of doulas act as both birth and postpartum doulas.

Which is what I intend to do on this new leap of faith.

I have been fortunate. I had three healthy pregnancies, three wonderful births and different experiences with each. I have the joy of those memories that will last a lifetime. It has always saddened me deeply to hear my friends or family members talk of their horrible birthing experiences. They shudder about things gone wrong, unexpected turns in plans, or trouble with the medical personnel they had to deal with. It’s heartbreaking to hear. But more than anything, I can’t bear to hear someone beret themselves for perceived failures about the choices they made, or the experiences they didn’t expect to happen (like emergency c-sections, or difficulty breastfeeding). I would love to help support people navigate those precious moments, and hopefully assist them to create the kind of memories they love to remember and share.

So, this is my new adventure. I don’t know for sure if there is enough demand for doulas in my area to make a good living of it. I don’t have a great grasp of how the whole “on call” schedule thing will work in my life. I don’t know any other doulas, or how willing they will be to partner up with me to act as back-ups. I’m not sure how long it will take to start getting “gigs” or how to set up a proper website, or what I’ll call my new business once I get the training off to a good start. And I don’t know how soon after a couple secures my services it would be appropriate to start cuddling the baby belly and whispering to the unborn child that it is Totally Uncool to start labor on a Beer Friday. I mean, will the mother freak out about that? There are some really strange people out there. Do I really want to work with someone who doesn’t understand the Sanctity of Beer Fridays?

As you can see, this will be quite the Leap for me. There are a lot of details to still work the kinks out of. I’ll need to take singing lessons, get over my repulsion of bad breath, and fight the urge to continuously offer all the baby names I still love but my husband refused. (I mean, seriously. What was so wrong with Sawyer? I mean, can’t you just see him? Little blond, blue-eyed Huckleberry Finn character with a fishing pole? Adorable, right?) The good news is that poop blow-outs will not faze me—if the years as a monkey keeper hadn’t prepared me sufficiently, countless years of diaper explosions and the one incident of a toddler girl finger painting the pack-n-go crib, and splatter painting the bedroom walls with her own shit certainly did the trick. Vomit? Check. No sweat. Blood curdling screams? No pregnant woman has anything on my first daughter’s shrieks from the age of 2 hours until well into her 5th year of life. (No worries, she’s perfect now.)

The opportunity to share in the miracle of birth and being invited into the nest with the nestlings? Priceless. A gift. A blessing.

So, can you cross your fingers that I manage to make my way? Send up a wish, if you will, that I’ll get some calls soon. And if you know anyone in the Ottawa area looking for a doula, give them my name, will ya? I will need to assist two mothers and/or their families as part of my training. I'm ready as I'll ever be.

Creating a new life can be scary, I won’t lie. But there comes a time when there is really only one option left—to push onward and get 'er done. You don’t know what gifts you’ve been given until you get to the other side of the fear and pain.

Maybe understanding that, and practicing it as my lifestyle, makes me uniquely qualified to help others bring a dream come true of their own to new life.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Once Upon a Snow-Begotten Hump Day

How does one cure a "getting stuck in the snow in your driveway, finally getting out, arriving at work really, really late, only to get stuck in the parking lot” day? How do you survive a horrible-bank-meeting, kids fighting because they're home from school and overexcited, power goes out, sump pump alarm sounds, and water pump stops working kind of day? What if the city snowplow shows up to plow the lane, but not until it’s a full 10 hours past the time it's actually useful? How does one cope when this comes on top of two weeks of mounting frustration with bosses who are oblivious to the value of the work you're doing, coworkers who are sabotaging your efforts, equipment failure after equipment failure—and you need the equipment in order to Make Your Living and answer the Money Gods? What happens when you’re searching all of the jobs available in the surrounding area, but realize you qualify for exactly none, mostly because you grew up in Small Town, Indiana, and never learned the french that is necessary to land a job in the capital of Canada? What do you do when you are Buried in Snow in NOVEMBER?

Worry not, friends, I have the answer to all of these problems.

W(h)ine Wednesday, folks.

Those of you already on board Kelly's Facebook Train, are well aware of the absolute SACREDNESS of BEER FRIDAYS in her world (and the worlds of those on board). Beer Fridays are the end of the week treat, the reward, if you will, for persevering against all odds. They are the Goal to Reach at the end of a hard week's work. The light that shines through all other lights, and any darkness that may descend. Beer Fridays are a ritual, a tradition, and, by God and all that's Holy, an international holiday-in-the-making. (We're working on it, folks. In between Fridays...and beers...and the random hangover. Be patient please...It is our intention to make it global. Please feel free to start your own grassroot local chapter of a Beer Friday tradition. We only ask you give us credit for the Trademark ‘Beer Friday’ title. It is dear to us, and organically born of two friends sneaking a beer (ok two) one evening from the back of an old pick-up truck.  

But sometimes...SOMETIMES...we can't make it through an entire week. Monday sucks, Tuesday feels like it should be Friday already, and by the time Wednesday rolls around, the world just seems to crumple into a disaster of epic proportions. No one can reasonably expect a person—or people—to hold themselves up for another two days until the blessed relief that is Beer Friday. It is irrational. Perverse. Sick, I tell you.

It’s not like said people gave up, mind you. We woke up, as Canadians often do, and found the 30 centimeters of snow that were predicted by the local weatherman the previous day. In NOVEMBER. The school buses were cancelled, bringing on a litany of too-early-in-the-morning celebratory screams from the school children. Without a moment’s pause for breath, they began their epic battles for ownership of the Wii-U pad, and ipods and immediately entered the domain of Minecraft and some world or character known as Pikman (not to be confused with Pokemon or Pacman). The person that stayed up until 2am watching Glee reruns on Netflix the previous night moaned to herself, took a couple of extra vitamins, and braced herself for a day of negotiating electronic-device timeshares, babydoll apparel, and coloring book contracts. She did it with a smile.

It’s only 7:13 am.

The one who must go to school in spite of bus cancellations, because he must babysit the children whose parents have no regard for weather-infringing road hazards of staff, set himself into the seat of his Corolla…the snowtires already tucked neatly into the backseat for the appointment to put them on the vehicle—in three days. He pulls out of the garage...and gets stuck. Phenomenally stuck. In his own driveway. He perseveres, grinding gears, spinning tires, slipping and sliding this way and that, backwards in his long, snow-begotten driveway. He makes progress—maybe 20 feet out of about 100.

A daughter rushes to the rescue with a shovel. Her coat hanging open, no snow pants, the boots on, but untied. Toque eschew. She digs ferociously—relentlessly—at the snow beneath the tires and undercarriage of the car, flipping wet, heavy snow by the spoonful over her shoulder.

She is eight years old.

The Other Guy shows up and offers supervision, laughter, and the occasional suggestion for wheel angles to the Stuck Guy. He waves his arms around in the air, usefully pointing out the copious amounts of snow we all know is keeping Stuck Guy stuck in the driveway. Ultimately helpless in this moment, he gets back into his car with his Warm Wife who has been waiting patiently in the car, and steamrolls his way down the unplowed laneway, showing Stuck Guy why he should have purchased a vehicle with four-wheel-drive instead of the sensible family minvan.

In his defense, Stuck Guy did not cry. At least not visibly.

He said calm things into his cell phone, pulled his snowblower out of the garage, and blew snow all over himself and the eight-year-old Little Digger while clearing out the area around the car. He proceeded to blow tracks the length of the laneway…a full quarter mile…just so he could go to work. To babysit kids at school whose parents bring them to school rain or shine, blizzard or tornado, sleet or hell. Oops, hail. He gets it, though his wife is not so understanding as she watches her love leave in horrible conditions. Most adults don’t get snow days. Not even in Canada. Especially not in Canada. Snowshoe or die, folks. Canada is not for those weak in weather. Though this laneway is a city road, the city snowplow operators ignore it regularly.

The Other Guy rides off into the falling snowflakes with his Warm Wife. They go to the bank. Shit gets ugly. Someone cries. Dreams are lost and found. There are talks born of desperation, discussions of failures, possibilities, and faults. Numbers are thrown around like confetti, questions fired like an inquisition, and emotions squashed as if a plague. There is no room for sentimentality in this cut-throat business. Just another day in the livelihood of a small Canadian family-owned-and-operated farm. They wipe tears, take a deep breath, and consider their options. Then they discuss separating the family during the holidays and for several months beyond in order to make enough money to save the farm that’s been in the family for five generations.

The Warm Wife of The Other Guy settles into the century home that is in desperate need of renovation, and immediately returns to promoting her family business online, and working her full time government job from home because she had to take a personal day for the bank meeting. She tries to get it all done before she has to pick up her kids from daycare. She knows they need her to pay attention to them, to help them with homework, and to listen to them about their days, their concerns, their hopes, joys, and experiences. She is a good listener, a good mom, and loves to spend time with her family.

The Other Guy, unable to crop his livelihood because of snow and farm equipment that is broken still and again, uses his machinery for good. He drives his new bobcat tractor several kilometers down the road, stopping at driveways in the countryside to plow out his neighbors. He moves from one to the other, not stopping or asking for pay. He’s just being neighborly—because he can. He returns home to plow his own driveway only after helping out his neighbors. He thinks nothing of this.

Meanwhile, Stuck Guy is on a roll. He manages to make the treacherous drive all the way into town and gets to the school for duty. But he gets stuck in the school parking lot. This is not a joke, nor is it taken as such. Still, he does not complain. Instead, he reports for duty, apologizes for being late, and takes on his responsibilities for the day—caring for special needs kids, as well as assisting teachers throughout the school with tedious tasks. He does this with great cheer and pride. The school kids love him, the special needs kids adore him, and the teachers can’t live without him. However, he is not valued for his role by his superiors. His role is not rewarded by the school system, the school board, or the province. In fact, his pay—an hourly rate, not salary as teachers get—will be docked for being late, in spite of the weather. He does not care. He will continue to do what he does, and give more than 100%, because he believes in serving those who need him. He approaches his job as he approaches his family and his friends—he is devout. This is his lifestyle. There is right, and there is wrong, and he always chooses right, no matter what.

Back on the homefront, children are playing, as children do on snowdays home from school. There are five. Three of my own, and my other two. These started as daycare kids, but have become so much more. I realized that when talking to my sister who lives far away in Indiana. I talked about each child – their accomplishments and challenges, funny stories, and our collective thoughts, hopes, and concerns. I seamlessly went from the children I birthed to the children I've loved into my life without a moment’s thought or hesitation. They are like siblings, they are all mine, no matter the technicalities.

The power went out. This happens a lot in the country. And we had a nice fire going in the woodstove downstairs, so warmth was not a problem. But the Sump Pump had a real problem with it. It began to beep. Repeatedly. Relentlessly.

I opened the door, pushed some buttons with flashing lights. It stopped beeping. For a moment. And then began to beep faster.

I grabbed my phone and texted The Stuck Guy as well as The Other Guy. I am not comfortable with machines talking back to me. They are so difficult to discipline. Like toddlers. Or puppies. But less cute.
Suggestions were made from both sources. Push the buttons. One button. Then the other. Push them both together. I pushed the buttons at will to no avail.

I bent into the closet on my knees, cleaning cobwebs out of the shadows with the red locks of my hair, and leaned over the pit laden with pipes and floating balls. I dipped my hands into the slimy, ice cold water and lifted first one ball, then the other, and finally cupped both balls in my hands, gingerly holding them above water level.

While such a gentle gesture may be appreciated in certain circles, this angered the Sump Pump Lord.
He began to screech and whistle at me, beeping maniacally. Lights flashed—green, orange, red, and yellow lights spelling out words in too rapid a succession for me to decipher. The screaming filled my ears, the vibrations of rage tore through my soul. I just knew I had committed some irrevocable crime against machinery.

But I was a trained zookeeper. I knew that no matter what happened, no matter how dire the situation, no matter how much it struggles and fights…once you have caught up your animal and have a good grip on it, you must Never under Any circumstance Let Go Of That Animal. It will only put you in grave danger. Because now, it is PISSED OFF.

There was no doubt in my mind in that moment that the Sump Pump Lord was Pissed Off. I could not let go of its balls. With tears slipping down my cheeks, and the buzz of screaming ricocheting my brain against the sides of my skull, I leaned deeper into the pit of slimy water and gently transferred the left ball against the inside of my right forearm, freeing my left hand. When I was sure both balls were secure above water level, I used my left hand to again text The Stuck Guy, and to explain that I was, well, stuck.

He texted suggestions to me, all of which I’d already tried repeatedly, and all of which had failed. I begged him to tell me where the hatchet was, desperate to put the suffering Sump Pump Lord out of his misery. I couldn't stand to watch and listen to him in such torment. That’s when The Stuck Guy left me.

I’ll never know if it was because a child needed his attention at school, or his boss caught him helping someone other than Her Royal Self. Maybe the school had a surprise fire drill, or his car suddenly and mysteriously disengaged itself from the snow ruts of the parking lot as he watched through a classroom window. I like to think the phone simply lost its charge and died…as we all claim happens but never really does because who would actually let their cell phone DIE?! No one. It’s unfathomable.

Nonetheless, I was stuck at home cradling a pair of balls over a vat of smelly water in a dark closet of my basement. The Sump Pump Lord screamed obscenities at me in a language I couldn’t understand, and frankly, didn’t want to. I could only assume he was in agony and begging for his motherboard, mercy, or both.

It was time to let go. I dropped his balls.

They landed with a gentle splash in the stagnant water, and the screaming continued. My nerves were shot, my emotions raw, and I had no plausible options. So, I reared up to the full height of myself on my knees, leaned over the Sump Pump Lord, and pushed both buttons simultaneously as hard as I could. I leaned the full weight of myself into my fingers, ignoring the cobwebs stretching across my nose, up to my earlobe, and I didn’t let go.

It wailed one last bloodcurdling oath, and fell silent.

The quiet filled my head much the same as the screaming had…a steady pulse, a rhythmic hum of its own. The lights were gone too. My chin dropped out of respect and I honored the moment of silence with reverence and a little regret. I knew it had been for the best, the Sump Pump Lord was no longer suffering. I had done what I had to do.

And then it beeped. One soft, gentle beep. I glanced up. The glow of a green light beckoned my gaze. Steady and sure of itself, it spoke to me. I finally understood. “System Ready,” the light said. “System Ready.”

And it was.

I gently closed the door, offering the Sump Pump Lord privacy for his rehabilitation, and went upstairs. I scrubbed my hands up to my elbows as my mother, the nurse, had taught me. I took a deep breath, and pulled out my cell phone. It was time to pull more than a pair of floating balls out of a pit of despair.
I punched in some messages, and began to cook.

By 4:30, some mellow music was playing via Songsa on my ipod, a vat of chili was simmering on the stove, and a loaf of Harvest Beer Bread was baking in the oven (from my Sunset Gourmet side business,; warning, shameless self-promotion plug here: see http://www.mysunsetgourmet.ca/3097/). Candles were lit on the dining room table. The rest of the broken-by-Wednesday spirits began to drift into the house.

W(h)ine Wednesday, folks.

We gathered, my hubby, friends, and I around the long, simple dining room table. We shared the details of our rotten days, listening and talking in turn. We ate like gluttons. We partook of wine and local brewery beers, and a shameful amount of 5-minute microwave fudge (another Sunset Gourmet treat. Mmm…Just saying, check it out. LOL). One of us started nodding off at the table. It’s not the first time this has happened among us. I think we’ve each had a turn. It’s become an endearing habit between us. When the reality of our Hump Day Blues were worked out between conversation and relaxation, we turned to topics to lift ourselves and each other back up off the floor. We admired our children—their individual traits and talents—and how our parenting ideas were so similar. We discussed possible futures for the lot of us, and daydreamed a little about the Great What If. And then, the icing on the shitcake of the day—we laughed. Because, together, we Always do.

And that’s the point of it all, isn’t it? There are songs written about it. Lean on Me. You’re Not Alone. You’ve Got a Friend. Etc. When life’s kicking you, you need to gather round and talk it out with people who give a shit. Don’t save time with loved ones, your family and friends, just for celebrations. Those are great, but the truly great stuff comes of the time spent lifting someone up, and/or supporting each other.  And after you talk about the downs, make sure you include some Ups. Smile. Toast. Laugh. Really laugh. And then remember…sometimes you can’t…you shouldn’t…wait until the next holiday. Sometimes you can’t even wait until Beer Friday.

Every once in awhile you’re going to need a W(h)ine Wednesday. And that’s okay.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Shenanigan

Hi, my name is Kelly and I’m a Shenanigan-aholic. I’ve been shenanigan-free for 12 hours. To be honest, I’m not comfortable in this new persona. It doesn’t seem to suit me. I’ve been a lifelong shenaniganist. Oh, like any other shenanigan addict, I’ve had my time on the wagon—days, months, even years at one point early in motherhood. But I always find my way back to my addiction.

Before hitting bottom this morning, I’d been on the wagon for 17 days. That last shenanigan was with friends of my husband Seb and I in northern Ontario. The Birnies had invited us to spend the weekend at their lakeside cottage. Everything was going well. Stories were shared and the wine flowed, but I managed to avoid any true shenanigans. At least until the second morning. The guys decided to go into the ice cold lake for a swim on a cold, cloudy day. I watched them work their way into the water inch by inch, hollering about the cold and hugging themselves but sporting huge grins and pride. Darren was first—it was his “thing” to swim in the cold lake since he was from northern Ontario. Sebastien followed him slowly. I put my feet in and felt the blood in my ankles turn to ice. The guys told me to join them. I stepped back out of the water, shaking my head, and explained there was no way in hell I was putting on a bikini in 8 degree weather to swim in ice water. But as they continued to congratulate themselves and each other, I could feel the shenanigan coming on. It started knocking for release from the inside of my skull—the sound of it like a pounding drum, drowning out Annik as she came to my aide in the Sisterhood of Support for Sane People. Shenanigan-free people. I loved her in that moment, in spite of my need. Perhaps even more so because of it. I fought it for a moment, grasping at The Sisterhood like a lifeline, but when Darren said he was impressed with Seb because not too many people would go into a lake that he himself found too damned cold, I turned on my heel and raced to the house. Darren said, “What’s this? She’s going to get her suit, she’s coming in,” and I shook my head, still fighting the powerful urge, when Seb said there was no way I would ever get into that lake.

So I schooled them.

I put on my bikini in record time, pounded across that deck, and before they even realized I was really going in, I hit the shoreline, and then was in the water. Though it had taken each of them several minutes to get out to chin-deep water, it took me mere seconds to reach them. 

Heady with the high of the shenanigan (I’m not gonna lie to you, the whoops and cheers are still ringing in my ears and fluffing my ego), no matter how much I tried to come down, I continued the evening with a lot of banana liqueur, red wine, and unsavory comments and suggestions. It was, at least, a high-quality shenanigan, and worth every insult and giggle.

But the next morning, I made sure my friendships and marriage were still intact, and breathing a sigh of relief to find they were, I promised myself there would be no more shenanigans for me. I would behave. I would be a stand-up citizen. No more shenanigan hangovers.

We addicts know how that goes, don’t we? I managed to remain straight for 17 more days. Even through my birthday celebrations, I remained uncharacteristically tame. I told myself life could be enjoyed without shenanigans. There could be good ol’ wholesome fun among friends and family, and I vowed to embrace such a lifestyle.

I like to blame others for my falls. Heh, heh. Don’t we all? I’ve blamed my friends, my family, and my job. I’ve even blamed my pets. Yes, I know. I’m not proud of it. Lately I’ve been blaming society. You know what I mean? There is a constant pressure to perform, to earn and succeed in every aspect of life. Careers. Marriage. Sex. Health. Looks. Parenting. Being a housewife as well as running a home business. I threw myself into conquering it all—getting it all right once and for all. I found myself running to meetings to learn about new legislation that will affect my daycare business. I began to feel like a bad parent for missing meetings with my kids’ teachers and choir concerts. I even attended church and dreaded family functions a few times in order to please other people. These were the things I needed to do in order to avoid shenanigans. This is what mothers, wives, home business owners are supposed to be doing. This is what keeps them respectable, humble, and straight. But these expectations from society that make up our culture just build and build. Sure, one can stay off the shenanigans when you’re focused on doing everything right. It even feels good sometimes—sort of comforting.  But after awhile, it’s like being in a pressure cooker, and I find myself looking for the little knob that will release some steam. That’s when I turn to my addiction. That’s when the urge for shenanigans is at its strongest.

You can’t blame society. I understand that now. My shenaniganism is my doing. My responsibility. I am the only one accountable for my choices.

My low point came just hours ago, early this morning. It had been a rough day yesterday, followed by a late night. The kids—all 8 of them (3 of my own and 5 daycare)—were driving me crazy and I couldn’t think or eat or calm down. They were screaming at each other, running through my house, and jumping on the furniture. The baby fell—the cop’s daughter—for the third time that day while trying to keep up with the hyper big kids. No one seemed to be getting along. We had a birthday party for one of the boys. I knew that the chocolate cupcakes would just make it all worse, but cupcakes are an essential part of birthdays, and the consequence of feeding several children that much sugar is a foregone conclusion—added chaos. Other mothers can handle this. Other parents and daycare providers do these things with grace and a smile. They snap pictures, organize games, and hand out loot bags. When do they find time to shop for and put together loot bags? But even more so—why would they do that to other parents? Why give them cheap toys that we all despise and throw in the trash the first chance we get? But that is what Good Parents do, so it was on my agenda of personal challenges. I will eventually produce loot bags to hand out at my kids’ birthdays, but not today. Today, cupcakes and balloons were all I could handle. But it was also a full moon, week #874 of dreary, rainy weather, and the last week of school. My patience was lost, and I was shaking with the need for a full-on shenanigan. I took some deep breaths, and controlled myself. I handed the kids over to their parents with a quiver in my voice, but other than the bruised cheek on the cop’s baby, they were safe. Shortly after, the power went off, and my own kids kicked up the tension about sixteen levels. Still, I held it together and let my husband handle it. I remained shenanigan-free. And then he left to play baseball and drink beer.

My husband is one of Those People. You know the ones…the kind that can control their fun and mischief, and not let it go as far as a full-throttle shenanigan. I know. I don’t understand how he does it either. I mean, I even catch myself sometimes thinking that can’t be any fun at all, and what’s the point? If you can’t have the whole shenanigan, why even taste it? I guess that’s what makes me an addict. Seb can be a lot of fun, trust me. When I’m thinking clearly—when I’m not in the throes of my addiction—I really do admire him. But I’ve never been able to just taste the fun—or trouble—without going all-in.

Well, he went to play in his baseball game and then to drink some beer with the guys. Trying to stifle my jealousy that he was able to let off some steam, I sat at home, lonely once the kids  were in bed, scanning Netflix to distract me from the need for another fix. I waited for him, hoping his gossip and stories of the evening would be enough to feed me, or at least stop my trembling need for a hit of fun. But it got late, and later. And later. He finally came in at 12:45am on a work night. Normally this would make him rant about how tired he would be at work the next day, but this time he was happy, relaxed, and decidedly carefree.

It was too much. 

I couldn’t take it. I’d been fighting my dire need for a shenanigan of my own all day—hell, for 17 full days—and seeing him sated and satisfied by his own fun was too much for me. I looked around, searching desperately for something to give me a little release. Just a tiny hit was all I needed. But it was too late for a good movie.  I’d already written a new blog post—ready for posting today—and there were no more words to play with. It was too late to start drinking beer, and Seb was in too good a mood to sport me a decent fight. I’m ashamed to admit, I tried. Quivering with need, I grumped and pouted. I prodded him about our plans for the weekend, thinking I could delay the need until it passed. He wouldn’t bite. There was no fun to be had, no tomfoolery to instigate, no trouble to start, and nothing obnoxious to do. While of course I prefer the shenanigans bought with good times and fun, I was desperate, and would have settled for the cheap high of the more inexcusable variety. But there was simply no stash to pull off a decent shenanigan anywhere. All I could do was go to sleep, so I did.

I hit rock bottom on the other side of that long day and night—this morning. My kids are the ones who found me initially, and then others became involved. The kids saw me taping thank you notes on end-of-the-year presents for their teachers, drawing smiley faces on my handwritten cards. Some of the gifts were for teachers I’d never met, and one was even for a teacher I had despised all year because she didn’t want to help my daughter with her reading struggles. But I loaded those gifts into plastic bags for my daughters to carry, yelled for them to get in the van and we shot up the drive. I could see the bus at the end of our lane, as well as the neighbor who had put his son on the bus. But about halfway in my race down the laneway, with dirt billowing and gravel flying behind my spinning tires, the bus pulled away. I had missed it. It was the first time all year. In a year of meeting 6 buses a day, it was the first miss—with just 3 school days left.

I hit the brakes at the end of the lane, jumped out of the van, and slapped my hands against the sides of my head. The kids opened the side door and hopped out, and the neighbor climbed out of his car, pointing out the obvious—that the bus had left without my kids. He looked at me, grinned and said, “It wasn’t my kid that missed it this time.”

“FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I screamed. “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck!!!!”

I kicked at the dirt road, yelled at the kids to get back into the van, and then turned to the astonished neighbor—who also happens to be one of my best friends. The friend who had brought me coffee and cold beer on other days I’d found myself in need of a shenanigan-fix. Wayne, my fellow Gemini, a friend who totally gets me.

I could feel it coming on, and was helpless against the force of it. Even I knew my eyes must look too wild—like my screws had finally come loose for good. “I don’t know what the hell to do! I don’t know when Seb has to be at work, so I don’t know if he can even take the kids. Maybe it’s too early, and he won’t be able to drop them off. Stupid teacher gifts. Fuck!”

Wayne looked at the bags of gifts my girls held as they cowered in the safety of the van. “Teacher gifts? Teacher gifts?” he asked. “But why?”

“I always give teacher gifts at the end of the school year!!!” I screeched. “And now we missed the fucking bus because I was getting the stupid teacher gifts ready and the kids’ sunscreen on and their lunches out and their backpacks packed and make sure they ate breakfast and the daycare parents were arriving and nothing was going right. Fuck! And now I have to take the kids to school, but first I have to meet Keidrick’s bus in half an hour and then Gibson’s fucking bus doesn’t come until 8:25 and the girls are supposed to be at school by 8:00. Shit. Shitshitshitshitshit!!! Well, Seb is just going to have to take them. I don’t know what else to do. They can just sit outside the school and wait for a teacher to show up if it’s too early. Goddamnitalltohell!!!”

Wayne’s eyes opened wide and he backed slowly away from me towards his car. He never took his eyes off my face as he reached for the door handle. He was supposed to also be dropping off his daughter at my house for daycare, so I got into the van, slammed the door and started backing down the laneway so he could follow me.

He jumped into his car, threw it into gear and shot forward out of the drive and skidded down the street without a backward glance.

I haven’t heard from him since.

His wife Alison dropped the daughter a little later, slipping into the house quietly and kissing her child goodbye. She was halfway out the door when I came down the stairs to greet her. Her hand tightened on the doorknob and her eyes kept darting to the window of the door, doubtlessly hoping for backup to suddenly appear in the driveway. She left as quickly as her husband had departed, but with less squealing of tires on pavement.

And that was my rock bottom. It was an ugly, shameful shenanigan, and it wasn’t worth it. It frightened my children, put my husband on the defensive, and could have cost me treasured friendships. There’s a chance I’ll see The Seays again. They’ve experienced my shenanigans before. Wayne is a bit of a shenanigan addict himself—truth be told, we tend to egg each other on, but we understand that about each other. It’s good to have friends who understand you.  

 But now I’m making a vow to get my life on track—to get it right this time. I’m going to control my temper, plan and organize the lives of my family better, and stick to a schedule. I’m going to make those loot bags for the kids’ birthdays this year, damn it, and find a way to handle sugar-highs and full moon behavior of all the children in my care. I’ll stop staying up until all hours of the night writing ridiculously silly blog posts, wake up earlier to meet buses, and take ballroom dancing instead of pole. I’ll stop cursing, engaging in belching contests, and giggling at crude conversations. I’m going to write a literary novel nobody will want to read and take the Canadian oath, and I’m going to do all of it with the grace and elegance of the Duchess of Cambridge. I know that I cannot continue to chase the next shenanigan-high and expect to live a respectable, responsible life. There is no real reward at the end of a summer full of drinking and tomfoolery with friends, laughing raucously, and dancing wildly at any given moment. The only way to get straight and stay shenanigan-free is to embrace a controlled lifestyle and create a whole new me. Just because the addiction is part of who I am doesn’t mean I have to give into it and indulge in hilarity and spirit whenever the desire hits me. So here’s my new creed:

I, Kelly Shannonhouse Lalonde, pledge to commit to a life of respect, responsibility, and reasonable fun. I want to earn the trust of my loved ones, the 6-weeks-straight beer coaster-of-honor, and the…

Wait. Did someone say BEER coaster?!

Oh hell. Screw it. I’m out.

Is it Friday yet? Are you serious? It’s only Tuesday? WTF? Where the hell did my music go? Child, you better give that ipod back to me if you know what’s good for you!

Wayne? Where are you, buddy? Help a friend out, will ya? Seb took the beer out of the fridge again to make room for stupid vegetables and to discourage middle-of-the-week shenanigans. The man has his priorities all wrong. Bring a cold 2-4, ok? I’ll share…promise. We know it’s more fun with company. We’ll get The Birnies to stay for a beer or three too when they come to pick up the baby. Yeah, that’s it…crank up the tunes, and we can sing along with Mr. Shelton. “If you’ve got a problem with that...you can kiss my country ass…” Oh yeah, now that's what I’m talking about. Sing it Blake!!

Now that’s more like it!  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kelly's Potty Training Boot Camp (Part 2) - The Recipe


Here’s Kelly’s recipe for Potty Training success. You will need:

     1 week (mostly in-home)
     1 potty seat
     1 toilet
     1 lg. sippy cup
     Water or fruit juice
     1 baggie of your choice of M&Ms, Skittles, or Jellybeans, OR one special toy
     1 ready toddler of your choice, stirred, not shaken*
     1 glut Patience, to taste

     [*Note: Readiness is determined by consistency. If you often find the toddler of your choice retreating to a certain corner to complete their business, if they tell you their wrapping is soiled, and/or the wrapping has been stripped from the bum without your assistance, you may have overdone the diapers, and need to remove the toddler from its wrap. If your diapered child pops up in the bathroom while others are completing their business, or place their dollies and stuffies on the potty, this also indicates your diaper days are nearly done. Proceed to the following steps.]

     As Miss Birnie is the most recent of my successes, I used her as my toddler of choice for this recipe, so will use the term she/her. Obviously, this also applies to all he/his options as well.

     Immediately remove absorbent wrap from bum of the toddler. Set aside wrap for bedtime use only. Fill the large sippy cup with your choice of water or fruit juice (I like water, but fruit juice is good for a thicker potty filler. You can also choose to alternate the two to get both fillings for your potty.). Begin to saturate your toddler with liquids, refilling the sippy as often as necessary. You do not want your toddler to dry out, or your recipe will not turn out properly.  
     Introduce your toddler to her potty. Make sure that they remain in the vicinity of each other at all times this early in the process. It is important that they are properly bonded to each other. Explain to your toddler that the potty is her new best friend, and that her friend loves pee and poo more than anything in the world. Her job is to keep her friend happy, by feeding it all the pee and poo she can.
     Go about her play. Assist her in her endeavors. Watch her for signs that her filling is getting ready to overflow. If she stops taking on liquids, and sets the sippy aside, joyfully, enthusiastically return the sippy to her hands, and encourage her to ingest more. Praise her when she does (I find that first cheering her with a coffee/beer mug-against-sippy cup tap, followed by chanting, “Chug! Chug! Chug!” is a very effective way to infuse your toddler with liquids. Some of you may have used this method in the pre-baby days with some good music and friends, a funnel, er, um, or so I’ve heard…Anyway, I digress…).
     At some point in the morning, your toddler will start refusing the liquid refills. This is an excellent indicator that her filling is about done. Check your toddler often. At this point, you will want to place her on the potty, and sit with her. Tell her, “Put the pee-pee (or poo-poo) in the potty. The potty wants the pee (or poo). Feed your friend the potty, it’s thirsty and hungry.”  Leave the toddler on the potty for a few moments. If nothing happens, the filling is not ready, so release the toddler to play. About every 5 minutes, return the toddler to the potty and repeat previous encouragement. Eventually, your toddler’s filling should overflow into the bowl.

     [*Note:  The first couple of times this happens, the toddler may become very upset and scream or cry. THIS IS NORMAL behavior! Do not worry. Simply reassure the toddler that this is EXACTLY what she is supposed to do and that it is a GOOD THING, a MOST EXCELLENT THING to do! Then move immediately onto the following step.]

     REWARD your toddler IMMEDIATELY! Congratulate her. Celebrate her success. Give her 1 candy treat for a pee-pee, 2 for a poo-poo. Absolutely no more sugar treats than that at any time. While working the bladder so intensely, the excess sugar can and will become detrimental to the outcome of the product. You want a toddler that connects the treat to the release of fluids into the potty in her mind, and does not mistake the treat for any other thing. (I also like to sing songs, clap, and dance for EVERY, SINGLE potty success. If there are other people in the house, this is a great time to do a celebratory parade through the house, singing the praises of the toddler-who-went-potty-and-just-became-a-big-girl (or boy). You can NEVER make too big a deal out of this. It NEVER grows old for them, and many respond more to the praise than the treat. This is THE BIGGEST DEAL OF THEIR LIVES SO FAR. Don’t forget that.

     [*Note: Some people prefer to give the toddler a special toy to play with as the reward instead of a candy treat. This is also effective. The way to use this method is to have a special Potty-Success-Only toy in a place the child can see, but not reach it. Once they have successfully released the fluids into the potty, set a timer for 10-15 minutes, and allow the child to play with that toy without having to share it with any friends or siblings. When time is up, return the toy to the special spot until the next success. No other child is allowed to touch that toy at any time, so that the toddler understands this is ONLY for HER successes.]

     As soon as the treat and parade celebration are complete, refill the sippy and begin infusing your toddler with liquids again. You will complete the above steps repeatedly for the next several days. Only wrap your toddler for sleeps, for going out of the home, and for long distance travel. (I suggest pull-ups for out-of-home excursions only, so that you can place toddler on available toilets more easily. You want to make sure that toddler understands that using a potty is for ALL times and places, not just at home.)

     [Hints: As soon as your toddler has had a day with some successes, you’ll want to start placing her on a Big People Toilet once in awhile. This is VERY important because she must become comfortable releasing the fluids and solids into a larger bowl, as most public and private restrooms do not offer potty seats. Allowing your toddler to flush the big toilets after they've made their contribution is another effective reward.
 The big toilet may be frightening at first for your toddler, so be reassuring and NEVER leave a frightened toddler alone on a big toilet. There are available “toppers” for toddlers that can be placed on big toilets, but again, I prefer not to use them, as they are not available in restrooms in the world-at-large. Though there are some people who will carry such a device with them, I am not of that temperament. I prefer to get the toddler comfortable with real-life options as soon as possible.]

     Another important note to make is that after a few successes, the toddler will catch on to what is happening, and may resist. This is the point where your toddler will actively refuse to sit on the potty. This is the time of the watery eyes and pouty lips. YOU MUST RESIST CAVING IN TO SUCH DRAMAS AT ALL COSTS. Understand that your toddler has simply become bored with the process, and finds diapers more convenient for her busy agenda. Though you may agree with her, this is where you will need to start peppering your toddler from the glut of Patience. You MUST remain consistent, and become even more devout in your toddler-to-potty administrations. Place the child (regardless of watery or pouty consistency) upon the potty every half-hour and encourage them to fill it. If you must, park the potty in front of a television, the lunch table, or give the toddler books to look at. Often the distraction is enough to release the necessary filling into the potty. It is okay to ask your toddler to stay on the potty for several minutes at a time, once they understand you want them to feed the potty pee or poo. Their boredom with this will not last long and they will learn to release the ingredients quickly after a couple of long sits. 
     The flip side to the toddler resisting the potty, is that they may quickly learn to turn it into a game for their advantage. Once they learn they will receive a candy per pee, they will learn to squirt the liquids in increasingly smaller amounts, more often. For the first week, and even for a couple of weeks after, you WILL COOPERATE with your very clever toddler! You will continue to praise and reward your toddler, both for her self-control and cleverness, but also because if the game ends too quickly, they may chose not to play anymore because it is no longer fun or interesting. Trust me, a couple of weeks down the road, you may run out of potty treats and your toddler may not notice, or will give you leave to purchase more at your earliest convenience. The treats will disappear naturally and with less fanfare than you may expect, so continue to reward your toddler as long as necessary.
     That, my friends and devout readers, is my recipe for Potty Training Success. I find that usually by the end of the first week, you can place your child in those coveted undies, and continue with the same steps of the recipe with similar success, simply decreasing the infusion of liquids and extending the periods of mandatory potty-sits as you see the toddler has caught on to the process. The first couple of times your child wears undies (and again, I recommend you start this at home, not out in public), she may mistake it for an absorbent wrap and allow the filling to overflow into it. This may be devastating to your toddler, which is actually a positive sign (Believe me, devastation is preferable to the toddler who doesn’t seem to mind a thoroughly soaked wrap, for those are much more difficult to bring to readiness and present to the world at large.). Gently remove your toddler from the saturated wrap and remind her that the pee and poo go IN THE POTTY now that she’s a Big Girl. It’s not a big deal, she simply forgot to feed her best friend its favorite thing, and assure her you know she’ll remember next time.
     To be honest, every experience with Potty Training will be slightly different. While I firmly believe most toddlers can and will be trained during the day hours within a week or two (nights can take months, or years longer, I've found, depending on how deep your toddler/child sleeps…I find most kids give up their own pull-ups for nights without much interference or suggestion from you), I will admit there is an occasional glitch in the system. For instance, I realized that I had a boy at one point that I believed had been fully trained for about a year and a half. He went to the bathroom every time I suggested it (I had incorporated it into our daily routine), and never had accidents on my watch. What I didn't realize until he was 4 ½ was that he’d had regular accidents with his parents once he was out of my care at night, because they were not on a schedule that included “Go to the bathroom” as part of their routine (i.e. before leaving the house, going to bed, when returning from a car trip, etc.). I had so thoroughly incorporated bathroom usage into our routine, I didn't realize I’d simply trained him to go on command, rather than pay attention to the needs of his body. That was early in my training days, and I have rectified that by not insisting on potty-sits after those first few weeks, and less suggestion to try at the same times each day. I also had the toddler (Oh, Miss Birnie, you are so full of surprises, you little imp!!) who refused to be infused with liquids after that first day. She is, at 21 months, smarter than me (and I say that with immense pride, and just a bit of shame!). She very quickly figured out the cause and effect of my methods, and simply refused to make herself so uncomfortable. When I began to drink more water (“lead by example!”), and chant more heartily (“Don’t stop now! Chug! Chug!”), she’d simply look me in the eye, tip her sippy, and take the tiniest sip of water to get me off her case, and go about her play. She would set her sippy aside as soon as I made (yet another) run to the bathroom to relieve my own bladder. The good news is, I've become very well hydrated and my skin has taken on a very nice, healthy glow. The bad news is, I've needed to tweak my recipe for success, but at least I always appreciate a good challenge!
     I think the important things to remember with any Potty Training recipe is that you need to Know Your Toddler, be Present and Tuned In, and not to be afraid to get creative with your recipe. It’s a lot of work, but always worth the effort. And the other important note is that as much as you want your toddler trained, She is the one who decides. This can become a great power struggle, or this can be a great Empowering opportunity.
    I mean, you can (TRY to!) fill your toddler with liquids, and you can lead her to a potty, butt…

P.S. As I said in Part 1 of Potty Training Boot Camp, I’d be happy to answer questions/give feedback on my boot camp methods and/or potty training via this blog, or Twitter @Kellsyjean. I look forward to hearing from you!


Monday, June 24, 2013

Kelly's Potty Training Boot Camp (Part 1)

     It was a cold, wet Monday, dreary and miserable as spring days in Canada often are. Just before 7am the cars start pulling into my driveway—a parade of parents dropping off their kids at my home daycare in their rush to conquer morning traffic, tackle their own personal and professional challenges, and fight the battles the crappy weather brings into their lives and livelihoods.
     “Good morning, my lovely Seays.” I say to the first family to arrive. These good people have become some of our best friends. I patted the 9-year-old boy on the head as he zooms by, intent to get in 10 minutes of battle on the Wii before I shuffle him and my daughters off to the school bus. I squeezed the 4-year-old Miss Seay who has wrapped herself around my waist in the day’s first bear hug. My girl. Even if she wasn’t technically mine, she was practically a twin to my youngest daughter, and they both look like mini-versions of my older one. I adore this sweet child who has been with me for three years now. Her mother and I grunt at each other in the mutual understanding that we are not morning people and respect that about one another, neither of us expecting conversation before coffee, tea, and well, noon to hit.
     The next car. The 5-year-old boy runs into the house first, slamming the door behind him so his 3-year-old brother has to struggle to open it himself. The mommy-person gets the shoes and jackets off, organizes the backpack, and reminds the school child to remember his hat. She performs the 3-year-old’s necessary ritual of verbal reassurances before closing the door behind her, doubtlessly thankful for completing one more morning chore. Kids delivered. Check. Now off to work.
     And the final family arrives. The mommy and the adorable toddler girl cross the patio hand-in-hand, matching grins and sparkling eyes, the daddy just a step behind. More of my special peeps. I have grown tremendously fond of this family as well as My Seays. These are The Birnies.
     “Good morning, good people of mine! How is everyone this fine gray morning?” We chat for a few moments about our weekends, the mommy presents the bag of goodies I’ll need for the week, and all the bigger kids come down to fuss and fight over hugging the toddler. She’s not spoiled at all. Being Queen of Kelly’s House at 21 months of age is all part of the charm, rights, and passages of my home daycare. Every child gets a chance to command the minions. This child has a particular talent for it—a mere grin will bring several older children offering a choice of toys, a smile will start a scramble for hugs and cuddles, and a full-out giggle induces infectious hilarity among all the children in the house. This is heady power for a toddler, and it grows into a sense of personal power as the relationships develop over the weeks, months, and years. I always foster that confidence to the best of my ability. Therefore, it was time for this little queen to take on a new personal challenge. I wished her parents a good day and kneeled in front of little Miss Birnie.
     “Please drop your drawers and surrender your diaper at this time. These items will be placed in safekeeping for the remainder of the day. May I offer you a Grande Sippy of our finest tap water? There are free refills, so drink freely, but responsibly. We insist on a buddy system, so if you’ll follow me, I’ll introduce you to your new best friend—this special little chair. Please get acquainted with your chair and how it works. You will be a team for the remainder of this week, and into the foreseeable future. I wish you the very best of luck. Welcome to…KELLY’S POTTY TRAINING BOOT CAMP. Go forth in confidence and determination, and use that inherent stubbornness to your advantage. May your aim be true, my furniture remain dry, and your bum bond quickly with the seat. And remember what Kelly always tells you—you can do anything you set your mind to.”
     Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Boot Camp for Potty Training. If you’re gonna do it, go all in, or not at all, I always say. Whether it’s because I’m a Gemini and patience is the very last item on the list of my virtues, or because I’m simply restless and too easily bored in general, I tend to be more of a jump-in-and-go-for-it-regardless-the-consequence kind of gal, than the take-your-time-with-a-well-documented-method type. That includes the biggest professional challenge of any childcare provider (or parent!)—potty training.
     You parents just shivered, didn’t you? I know it. Been there myself many times. Potty training is the stuff of horror stories around the grocery cart in the diaper—vs .—pull-up aisle, and wide-eyed gasps in bathroom-barren local playgrounds in the snowless months. It’s okay, nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve all been that parent or caregiver who packs the picnic lunch, fills the water bottles, sunscreens the kids, throws the blanket in the trunk, buckles the kids into the car seats, and drives joyfully the twenty-odd minutes to the park singing happy songs in rounds with the kids about sunshine and row boats, only to get out of the car, and have a toddler proudly proclaim they have to go potty as they cross their legs tightly and bounce up and down, hands clenched in front of their privates . I shudder myself as I remember that sweeping search across the park full of swings, slides, and fireman poles and come to rest briefly—desperately—on the sandbox before returning to the bouncing toddler whose eyes are now decidedly yellow. Then there’s the quick headcount of the 136 (or four…whatever!) kids you just unbuckled from car seats and released to the wilds of the playground, and the humiliating moment you think it might be okay to leave the 9-year-old in charge as you just run down the road with the toddler to the bathroom at the nearest Tim Horton’s. You’re not going to get any judgment from me, and I promise to look away as you sneak the little boy to the other side of the skinny tree to let him do his business. I’ll even glare in your behalf at the woman who looks on in outrage and disbelief. But the little girls still wringing their hands and trying not to cry while they bravely hold the pee-pee in are not so easy, are they? Yup. We’ve all been there at least once, and most of us more than that. (A little hint…don’t throw your potty to the curb as soon as potty training is complete. Store it in the trunk of the family vehicle until your youngest has a driver’s license and can drive herself to the local Tim’s in a urine-related emergency. I’ve even been known to crouch in the back of the van balancing over that seat in the middle of a breathtakingly close soccer match that my 7-year-old is starring in. Mock me if you will, but I won’t be the one making my child skip the popsickle-eating celebration after the game to rush to the nearest bathroom and relieve my bladder in the comfort of a filthy stall. I’ll be bouncing her on my shoulders and chanting free root beer for all at my house.)
     Now, there are traditional methods of potty training. The very first thing these gurus will tell you is that, “Potty training takes time and patience.” I know people who follow these methods, and have found success on the other side. My fellow daycare providers—God bless them and give them a special place among the angels when their time comes—and some parents I’ve met along the way. These are soldiers of the highest caliber, bravely—resolutely—endlessly trudging through trenches of shit-laden underpants and urine-soaked socks fighting on the front lines of The War on Wet Pants, following the proper chain-of-command creed issued by the Pampers Society of North America: “Diapers to Pull-ups, then Pull-ups to Underwear. We’ll help you grow up, and make more money than you want to share.” But I’m cheap. And impatient, but I think we’ve covered that.
     Hence, Potty Training Boot Camp. It sounds military-tough, and I’m not gonna lie to you, it is. One week. One focus. And the only way out of it is to pee to get off the pot. This is not for the faint of heart, or those weakened by watery toddler eyes and trembling pouty lips. Nor, as I’ve recently experienced, is it for those easily confused by the difference between toddler drama and toddler trauma. (Oh, Miss Birnie, you certainly kicked it up a notch!) You must commit, and make no mistake, it is a huge, time-and-energy-draining commitment.
     Here’s how it went with Miss Birnie:
     We spent the morning playing as usual. There were only two main differences. She was of the Bare Bum Status, and I was pressuring her to drink water on a minute-to-minute basis. All was jolly, as per usual. We were having fun. Cheering. Sipping.
     And then she set her cup down, refusing to accept it when I offered it back to her. This was a good sign. Her bladder was full, and she knew it.
     “Miss Birnie, do you need to use the potty?”
     She glanced at me. “No!”
     I waited a couple of minutes, watching her closely. She couldn’t stand still to complete the block tower she was making, so she moved on to the kitchen set and began taking out plastic food and placing it on a tray. Step to the sink. Step back to the bucket. Step to the sink. Step to the bucket.
     “Why don’t you come and sit on the potty for a few minutes? Let’s try to pee-pee in the potty.” I picked her up and placed her on the potty, and then sat down on the floor in front of her. The other two kids joined us in a circle of support. “Pee-pee, Miss Birnie, pee-pee!” we chanted.
     Miss Birnie began to cry. Oh no.
     “It’s ok, sweetie. Just put the pee in the potty. The potty wants the pee, remember? It’s the potty’s favorite thing! Give it to your friend the potty.”
     She began to cry harder and pointed to the play kitchen.
     Ok, we’re going to have to have an accident first. Sometimes, that’s the best way to jump-start success. There were two possible outcomes for this method. One, the trainee becomes horribly upset by the sudden expulsion of pee that soaks her legs and the floor around her, and becomes more open to suggestion the next time she finds herself with a full bladder. Or two, the sudden gush of pee landing on the floor is solution enough for her and the relief so great, she will happily plod out of the new floor river, and go about her play undaunted. (Yes, I just shivered. Been there. Done that. No thank you.)
     I crossed my fingers and lifted her from the toilet. “Ok, honey. Go play. Let Kelly know if you need to pee-pee.”
     I handed her the sippy, encouraged her to take another long drink, and sat back to watch. It didn’t take long.
     The screams started while I was attending the 3-year-old boy’s sock issues—tucking his pants leg back into his sock while he cried hysterically and swiped tears from his cheeks. Miss Birnie’s shrieks blared over his cries. She was standing in a yellow lake of her own making.
     I rushed over, swept her out of the raging river and placed her on the potty. “Oh, honey, you just had an accident. It’s ok. Put the rest of the pee into the potty, and Kelly will clean up the accident. It’s ok. You’re learning.” But it was too late. All the pee had hit the floor. No worries, I had expected that.
     I cleaned up the mess, gave her the sippy back, and sat back to continue the watch. It usually only takes 10 minutes or less for the second wave to hit once they’ve had a couple sippy cups full of water.
     Miss Birnie, now fresh and clean, went back to the play kitchen, offering plastic eggplant and hot dog buns to Miss Seay and the little mister. And then she grabbed a tray full of plastic donuts and teacups and began to run.
     The first round I didn’t pay much attention. She ran around the circumference of the playroom at a moderate speed, easily balancing her tray of goodies. The little mister immediately took up the chase. They do love to chase.
     By round three, donuts were flying off the tray willy-nilly as she picked up speed. Little mister couldn’t catch her, so Miss Seay joined the merry chase.
     “Ok, you sillyheads, stop running now before somebody gets hurt,” I said. “Somebody is going to trip on a toy and fall.”
     Miss Birnie shot-put the tray into a pile of teddy bears as she passed by, and took on a look of concentration I’d only seen on the faces of Olympic athletes ready to go for the medal. Uh-oh.
     “Miss Birnie, do you need to pee?”
     She tucked her chin toward her chest, and kicked into full gear—the last laps for the gold—and screamed, “Noooooo!” as she zoomed past.
     I couldn’t help myself, I started to laugh. Little mister and Miss Seay, oblivious to the problem, continued their chase of her, giggling hysterically by their game. Only Miss Birnie remained serious. She was utterly and completely focused. Without the cumbersome tray, her elbows tucked to her side, and her fists were pumping with each stride.
     “You know you can’t outrun a full bladder, don’t you, sweetie? The bladder goes with you,” I said as she ran past me, bare feet slapping on the floor. “Why don’t you come over here and sit on the potty. You’re going to feel so much better. I promise!”
     She was having none of it. Eyes boring a path into the laminate floor beneath her, she continued her trek around the playroom at breakneck speed. Nothing was going to catch her—not a 3-year-old boy, not her favorite 4-year-old girl, not Kelly, and certainly NOT some stupid, annoying, yucky feeling in her belly-parts.
     I’ve never seen a 1-year-old run that fast.
     I finally snagged her mid-lap. She started to kick, struggling to get loose of me, but I set her onto the potty. As soon as her bum connected with the seat, the gush started, and she screamed as if in agony. She tried to jump up off the potty, spraying pee in every direction—all over herself, me, the floor, and Miss Seay, who had come close to watch this first success. We couldn’t avoid the geyser but it ended quickly, and there was some in the potty.
     “Look! You made pee-pee in the potty,” I squealed. “You did it, honey! You put pee-pee in the potty!!” Dripping with piss and pride, we all began to dance and cheer, clapping our hands, and trying not to slip in the yellow river surrounding the potty. We congratulated the newest addition to The Big Kids Club.
     She stopped screaming, and looked into the potty, pointing at the yellow pool inside. “Pee-pee?”
     “Yes, baby. You did it! You’re Such a Big Girl!! Good job!”
     Oh, if I had the camera when I saw that face. The recognition. The acknowledgment of a deed well-done. Her eyes lit up, the eyebrows shooting up to her wispy bangs. And then the smile. Ah, that smile! Her entire face glowed with the force of that grin. She started clapping and chanting, “Pee-pee! Pee-pee!” We joined her, dancing around her and her tiny bare bum. And then Miss Seay remembered.
     “Her treat! Can I give her the potty treat, Kelly? Can I?”
     “Yes, ma’am you can,” I said, getting the Skittle out of the cup, and handing it to her.
     Miss Seay, with as much ceremony and joy as she remembers receiving in her own potty-training successes, handed the Skittle to Miss Birnie. “Good job!” she said, and petted her little friend on the head. “You did a good job. And only you gets a treat, cause you goed pee-pee on the potty. I’m a big kid now, so I don’t get one. Now you’re getting to be a big kid too. Good job!”
     I turn away to wipe a tear, or three. She remembers. It’s been more than 2 years since she went through these ceremonies, and now she has the opportunity to deliver the grand prize and does it with such pride in her little friend. It’s priceless—every single aspect of it all. The support of the troops, the self-pride, and the joy I feel in these moments.
     It’s easy to focus on how difficult and frustrating potty training can be. I do it myself, I’m not going to lie to you. Potty training is extremely challenging. It’s inconvenient. It’s time and energy consuming. And it’s downright messy. But try to remember. This is your child’s first real chance to tackle self-mastery, to learn that no matter what, their body is THEIRS ALONE to control. They learn that they are IN CHARGE of themselves, and this should be made a GLORIOUS EXPERIENCE for them! So, encourage them with celebration and praise all you can. Help them to learn as gently as possible (and forgive yourself when you lose it, because we all do). And remember that this is NOT about keeping pants dry and saving money on diapers.
     This is ALL about your child learning that they have power in their world, are capable of developing self-mastery, and have a say in what is happening with their bodies.
     These are The Moments, people. Use them to the best of your ability.
     And I wish you the best of luck.
     P.S. I'll be happy to answer questions and/or offer feedback on my boot camp methods/potty training in general via this blog or Twitter @Kellsyjean. I look forward to hearing from you!