I consider it an achievement that each weekday, I pack a nutritious, fairly balanced lunch for my son, even if the staples include a pre-packaged box of apple juice. The point is: by 7:30 every morning, it's good to go.
I rely, though, on lunchbags that we've been using for a while, and which are showing their wear and tear.
I saw this today: a gallery of paper bags, each one tremendously decorated by a dad who has two things I evidently don't have: 1) most importantly, talent. 2) time. Seriously, even though I start work during early shifts, I couldn't imagine finding the time to sketch something different every day ... and to do it this well.
They've been a long time coming, and they've arrived.
Here's the story. Nick has wanted a pet for a long time. As our friends know, Martha and I are cat people, and have had some great ones over the years. Unfortunately, my allergies have made this a non-starter. So, Nick over time has developed an idea about having a little aquarium.
This summer, we set some targets. If he completed his chores, and earned points, he could get an aquarium ... and the fish to go inside.
Glad to report the fella did everything he needed to do.
Tonight, we picked up what Nick called "the starter fish," three goldfish that he named - get this - Chuck Norris, Zach and Goldie. Chuck Norris gets his name from the joke meme that he just discovered. Zach is inspired in part by my colleague Zach Goudie. Goldie ... well, they're goldfish.
Several months ago, I was getting used to the concept, the very idea, that Nick was now wearing size 9 shoes. (Men's, of course.) This past week, as we were getting him ready for school, we picked up two new pairs. The size 9 we tried was ... tight. Size 10 it is, then. For now.
I snapped this picture of NIck this morning just before we headed out for the day. It was his first day in Grade 6, and he was more excited than I might have thought. (He was in the car minutes before his parents were ready to go.) I love this shot; it really captures his zest for life.
As Steve Burns puts it in the video below, either you know about Blue Clue's, or you totally don't.
We knew Blue Clue's, quite well. When Nick was very small, "Steve" - a character, let's not forget - was a very familiar face. I thought the show was very clever, and was impressed with how concepts were introduced and explained.
Here's a presentation that Burns gave to an audience about the strange twist that came to a performer who set out to be the next Al Pacino. And yes, if you knew "Steve," you'll be astonished to see what he looks like now.
By the way, this is for grown-ups, and definitely not for kids. The mail song ("Here comes the mail...") may never sound quite the same again.
If you never saw Blue's Clues, or wanted a refresher, here's a slice of what Steve was like:
We made the annual jaunt for school supplies on Saturday. Not the most joyous task, but never the worst. (Do you know what's worse that shopping for school supplies before the middle of August? Going at the end of August. We did that exactly once, and learned a lesson that there are indeed limits on how many items the stores bring in.)
In any event, Nick did not miss an opportunity to lighten the mood.
Martha left yesterday afternoon for a short business trip, which means Nick and I fended for ourselves for dinner. Bangers and mash on the menu: a favourite for the kid, who can inhale a plate in no time, and even squeeze in a green vegetable.
Nick wants to pitch in more these days, which is I guess what you'd expect from an 11-year-old, so he took on the potato-peeling chore. He's very proud to do this since Martha found a peeler that works for left-handed hands.
I learned, though, that it's not necessarily a good idea to turn the water on while he's still peeling. Let's put it this way: speed is not his strong suit! But, I loved watching him delicately handle each potato, finishing up the job and bringing the peels over for the compost containers.
In other words, we ate slightly later than possible, but amid a great feeling.
Parents tell all manner of little white lies to their kids, and one ofthe key areas has to be the taste of the medications they get.
"Oh, it tastes just fine," I instantly told my son years ago as I pushed one of those plastic little syringes together, while looking at a "banana"-flavoured liquid that, for all I really knew, tasted like cat food. I did try the liquid with a dot on my finger. It was sickly-sweet, and I don't blame Nick at all for giving us the sourest expression possible.
Last night, a new challenge. He has been prescribed little pills, and even though I told him they have no flavour, he wasn't biting, as it were. I can't blame him. I've told him for years that "Oh, it tastes just fine" about odious concoctions.
This time, though, I meant it. I told him it was like a jellybean, but without flavour. "I dont like jellybeans," he said, and that's true. I've never seen the kid ingest a jellybean or a related candy. I told him the only thing he'd taste was the water. "Soo... it's water-flavoured?" he asked. "Um, no," I replied. I was running out of metaphors. And patience.
So, he took the plunge, popped the little pill in his mouth, shot back some water and ... waited for something to happen. And it didn't.
"Ummm ... that's it?" He looked in his glass of water, then at me.
I started playing a tune this morning to get me in a coffee-making mood, and to my surprise, Nick said, "Hey, that's Valerie!"
I didn't know he knew about Amy Winehouse or Mark Ronson (it's from the latter's album, with the notoriously troubled but amazingly gifted former singing lead), and it turns out he doesn't. Or, as of now, didn't.
He knows the original version, by the Zutons, which was a non-hit until Ronson dressed it up and turned the gender table to boot, from Lego Rock Band, not to mention a wide variety of other tunes. (To wit: in the car last night, with Rich Terfry and Drive playing, he chimed in, "Hey, that's David Bowie!" At his age, I was already an obsessive radio listener, although that's really not part of the equation for him. He's picking up habits and tastes from places I couldn't have imagined 35 years ago.)
Here's a video of Ronson and "Winehouse" (or reasonable facsimiles) in action.
Here's the original from the Zutons. A great tune, either way.
I’ve had several conversations over the last few months on a subject that will, sooner or later, be raised in my own household.
Teenagers and texting go together like PB&J, but it’s not yet part of our family’s daily life. Sooner or later, though, our son will start wanting a cellphone, and we’ll have to make a decision on what we’ll do when the lobby inevitably kicks into gear.
Right now, it would be preposterous to give our son – a fifth grader – a phone, but I can see that a few years down the road, it would be helpful. And I mean helpful for us, regardless of what it would mean to his own life. A cell provides a link and offers peace of mind (although one of my friends is also blunt about calling it as he sees it: it’s a leash, he insists).
But I’m not blind to the pitfalls that come from equipping teens with phones. First, there are the costs. It seems like every parent I know has a story of sticker shock, of opening the phone bill and learning about hidden charges and texting overruns that never seem to get included in the sales pitches.
But apart from a lesson on why it’s good to do your homework on cell plans (and to set hard limits, and prepare for the consequences, on excessive texting), I’m more concerned about another kind of excessive use: the nocturnal kind.
While it’s obvious that many teens can’t put their phones out of sight during their waking hours, it’s also clear that many of them want to be in touch during what should be their sleeping hours, too.
Namely, the kids are taking their phones to bed, and either texting covertly under the covers or keeping the phone within reach, should a buzz-buzz message come in through the night. For a whole generation of people, that 24/7 concept of being connected is scarily true.
I heard a piece about through-the-night texting on the radio recently, which brought to mind conversations I’ve had about how some kids simply can’t let go of their devices, nor know when to stop. One of the side effects of this texting epidemic boils down to two words: sleep deprivation.
For years, I’ve promoted a common-sense platform for youngsters and computers. That is, if you’re going to have both in the house at the same time, make sure both of them are in plain view. That is, I don’t think children should use computer in their bedrooms, and that parents should be able to monitor what their kids are doing online, from school research to chatting with friends.
I’ve amended that line of thinking, and the issue here is less about safety and more about good health. With older kids, the line of demarcation should include cellphones and other electronic devices.
That likely raises the stakes for a confrontation in the famiy, but it’s a fight worth taking on.
A wise friend of mine adopted a policy I wholeheartedly endorse: her daughter’s cellphone gets recharged overnight in her parents’ bedroom. I’m aware of another family where the kids in the family are required to leave their phones – all three of them – in plain view in the kitchen, or risk losing them altogether. So far, it’s working.
I’ve heard plenty of chatter about giving phones to kids, including a lot of disproving remarks – almost always from people whose own situations don’t involve actual kids. I’ve also had enough conversations with friends to know that laying down the groundrules and living with them can be complicated, messy and easier said than done.
Much like everything else that goes with parenting.
But for their own health and wellbeing, your kids need to know that everything should be in its right place, and their phone’s right place is definitely not underneath their pillow.
It was warm(ish) today in St. John's, but, boy, did the temperature drop at suppertime. Nicholas went out for a bike ride, and came back a bit chilled and with red cheeks.
"Time for the first hot chocolate of the season," he announced. "Which is kind of weird because it's not even winter."
It is, however, almost fall. I made chicken korma for supper, with a full pot of basmati rice on the side. As the sauce simmered, the vapors from the stove were both hot and delicious. It was quite warming.
September's always been my favourite month. Fall's on the doorstep, and it doesn't take much to get me to embrace autumn.
When our whole family heads to the movies on opening night, it's got to be for something fairly special ... or at least something our son really, really wants to see. That was the case on Friday, when we went to see The Lightning Thief, an adaptation of the first novel in the popular Percy Jackson series.
NIck has been a fan of the books, and is currently reading the fourth in Rick Riordan's series of stories based on Greek mythology. He's been nice enough to let his parents read them, too; Martha's on the third, while I've been reading the first at bedtime.
My impressions are positive: the writing is quick-witted, the mythology is cleverly woven into the stories and I can see why Nick and other kids respond to the characters. (And, yes, it's very similar to the Harry Potter books, what with a boy of 11 or 12 discovering he has extraordinary powers, moving into a world of supernatural beings, relying on a male and a female friend, with each book advancing a school year or so. As well, Chris Columbus, who adapted the first two Harry Potter movies, handled this one, too.)
The movie takes some pretty hefty liberties. As the poster above indicates (a riff on the book art above it), Percy is not a boy of 12 in the movie. Instead, he's in high school, of indeterminate age, but old enough to drive a car. (The actor who plays Grover, Percy's friendly neighbourhood satyr-protector, is 25.)
The movie's fun, and I'd recommend it. Small kids may find the explosions loud, and some of the creatures - a Fury, and Medusa herself (played with relish by Uma Thurman), a minotaur attack - may be frightening, too.
That said, our boy ate it up, and we enjoyed it for what it is. I think, though, I'm safe in saying that all of us are enjoying the books a whole lot more.
The New Yorker's Halloween cover is brilliant. Although I saw nary a parent out there tonight (mind you, we weren't out long) with a smartphone, I think artist Chris Ware - more from him here - nails something about the obsession grown-ups have with their gadgets, perhaps at the expense of their kids.
Dot Dot Dot is Morse code for the letter 'S,' the full message Guglielmo Marconi claimed to have received atop Signal Hill in St. John's in 1901. It ushered in the age of telecommunications. My maternal grandfather worked as a telegraph operator for Canadian Marconi on Signal Hill for many years.
As well, I have a habit of overusing the ellipsis when I write ... as frequent readers might notice.