A final farewell

In the height of their cuteness.
In the height of their cuteness.

This blog began six years ago as an e-mail to my closest friends and family. We had just moved to London from New York and the kids were filled with excitement (Marley just knew she’d be invited for tea with the Queen), confusion (saying, “my pants are wet” means something totally different in England) and sadness (Pierce longed for cuddles from our babysitter, Miriam).

I chronicled our attempt to get the kids into pre-schools (Marley toppled a foam-block tower onto the admissions director during one interview). I wrote about first crushes, first run-ins with the authorities and their first gambling experience. As these stories so obviously prove, we are fantastic parents!

From hiking in Wales to getting playdoh stuck in an ear canal and surviving bullying at school, I have shared some of our most happy, funny and stressful moments over the past six years. The best part, though, was revealing the hilarious things that came out of my kid’s mouths. Each and every comment I recorded has enriched my days and brought a smile to those who read them.

Now that the kids are older, it’s time to lay my blog to rest – at least in the form in which it currently exists. At nine and 10, Marley and Pierce deserve to have their ups and downs kept private. Plus, my awesome parenting skills during Marley’s tweens may make you so jealous it hurts to read about them! (I’m sure we won’t hit any bumps during those years.)

As I write this last “Stuff My Kids Say” entry, we are gearing up for another big move; this time to a more familiar side of the proverbial pond – New York. While we are ecstatic to be reunited with our friends (Pierce gets to hug Miriam again) and thrilled to be closer to our family in Canada, the move is bitter sweet. For one, Marley never did get her tea with the Queen – however, she did receive a signed letter from Prince Harry explaining why he unfortunately couldn’t make it to her pop star birthday party. And Pierce never did get the dog he so persistently asked about – but, we recently agreed to add a puppy to our family once we’re settled.

For the most part, we’re all excited to start a new chapter in our lives (well, Marley’s a bit mad at us for making her sit the evil 11+ exams for no reason – she didn’t even get to attend the school she was so excited to get into). Still, it’s hard to close the door on an experience that has enriched us despite its few rough spots. What an amazing time we’ve had living, loving and growing in what is hands down the world’s most beautiful and inspiring city (sorry New Yorkers).

Thank you for joining me on my journey through child-raising in London, and for laughing along with our escapades. I can’t wait to see what my adorable kids have in store for me during the years ahead (well, excluding the teen years. I’m okay with skipping over those).

Cheerio!

 

Einstein said what?
Marley: Einstein said, “It doesn’t hurt you if you try.”
Me: Einstein said that?
Marley: No, but somebody else who’s smart did.

Mom’s manners?
Pierce: Mom, you burp too much to be a woman.

Solving riddles with mom
Pierce: If mommy doesn’t understand, then mommy isn’t the woman I picked to be born from.

Star Wars – Spoiler alert
Pierce: Why did they kill Han Solo? It was like watching part of my childhood die.

How we handled rejection

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Swinging high before the results.

Last night I let my 10-year-old daughter start a fire in our home. Far from a rampant inferno, this controlled blaze involved one letter-sized piece of paper and a few matches in our kitchen sink. Its flickering flames licked at invisible wounds she’d endured during a heart-break earlier in the day.

Currently, in London, thousands of 10- and 11-year-old children are anxiously awaiting the results of something called the 11+ exams – a series of gruelling tests in verbal and non-verbal reasoning, mathematics and English, not to mention interviews and assessment days. These tests help secondary schools to decide which of these thousands of bright and shiny faces will grace their hallowed halls this September. Some of the schools allow hundreds (sometimes more than 1,000) children to vie for as few spots as 30. The competition is literally fierce.

Children all over the city have been studying for a year or more (some parents start prepping their kids at 6!), conducting practice test after practice test in every free moment, to prepare them for this harrowing process. Their current schools teach lessons on interview techniques, verbal reasoning and exam skills. Some kids are tutored multiple times a week. Others have been forced to play musical instruments and join sports teams (whether they want to or not) over the past few years to pad their resumes. It’s akin to applying for university – at 10.

When I was that age, I built snow forts in the backyard, ran through the neighbourhood with friends and played endless games of hide and seek with my little sister. I would have aced an exam on Barbie’s latest fashion accessories, but put a three-hour exam in front of me and I would have folded like a cheap metal lawn chair in a windstorm.

My cheery 10-year-old, on the other hand, has been a superstar. She’s crammed for her exams with a “reasonable” amount of arguing. She’s gone into interviews with self-confidence and given impromptu singing concerts in two of them. My little girl didn’t even complain about sitting exams on three consecutive Saturdays.

The night after each exam, however, her resolve cracked. My daughter’s sweet smile slipped towards her chin as the pressure buried her under its heft. She cried herself to sleep, worried that she hadn’t done well enough to be accepted by a school. “What if no one wants me,” she sobbed into her pillow as I stroked her back.

“Of course they’ll want you,” I cooed. “You’re the spark these schools are missing. We just have to find the one that sees it.”

“But what if I don’t get in anywhere,” she blurted, a fresh bout of tears erupting from her eyes.

“Of course you will.”

“But how do you know?” Her wet eyes pleaded for me to have all the answers.

“I just know. You’ll be accepted where you’re meant to be accepted,” I said, vowing it to be true.

Now that the exams are over, we’ve all embarked upon the dreaded waiting game. Moms who are usually upbeat and chatty stand farther away at school pickup, avoiding other parents’ glances and try not to engage in conversations about results.

You can tell the ones who’ve had good news. The bags below their eyes have been covered with concealer, they’ve accessorized themselves and have replaced PJ bottoms with freshly washed jeans and heels. Some try to mask their smiles, but you can see it in their eyes. Others jump around exuberantly, hugging their friends and rejoicing in the fact that this horrendous process didn’t quash their child’s dreams or self-confidence.

I am happy for them. Honestly. I just selfishly wish that it was me jumping around with good news. Not so I could gloat, but so I didn’t have to see that look of dejection cloud my daughter’s vibrant blue irises – my interesting, unique, smart and talented kid who any school would be lucky to have.

Each time I hear the post fall through our mail slot, I rush to the door with a fluttering heart, hoping to see a large envelope from one of the schools. Small ones, we’ve learned, usually bring bad news.

This past Saturday, as my daughter was away writing her final exam, we received a small envelope. It was from her favourite school; the one she’d dreamed about attending for two years. My husband opened it hurriedly, praying that the letter contained good news. Unfortunately, it didn’t. In his hand lay the first major rejection of our daughter’s young life. I burst into tears as I envisioned having to tell her and witness her face crumple in sadness as her dream was squashed. I held on to the bad news for two days before I felt strong enough to approach her with it.

She took it bravely. “That’s okay Mom. I don’t care,” she said. “Really. Plus, it was tied for my first place, so I still have another good option.” She didn’t fool me. I saw the tell-tale tremble of her lower lip. She bit it lightly, trying to still its movement, but before she could stop it, the tears flowed. I held her in my arms as her body shook with each sob, willing myself not to cry along with her. I felt every ounce of that disappointment as much as she did.

When we got home, I showed her the letter and her tears re-emerged. As she crumpled the paper in her fist I said, “How about we burn it?” Her face lighted up as she looked at me in disbelief.

The flame danced in her eyes as she struck the first match, carefully holding it to the top corner of the letter. A small, half-smile appeared on her tear-stained cheek as the paper curled and vanished. When the flame went out, she lighted another match, repeating the process until all that remained were ashes.

That night, she fell asleep in my bed, hugging me whole-heartedly as she drifted off.  I lay facing her. As I watched her face relax with sleep, I knew she’d be okay no matter what news comes in the next envelopes. She was still smiling.


And now for a few quotes to make you laugh:

Why she needs so many pens

Marley: Don’t ask me why I have so many coloured pens in my bag. I use them and when people want to borrow them, they have to give me five hugs and tell me a joke. So I get a lot of hugs during the day and more jokes to add to my collection.

Discussing Rudolf the Red nose Reindeer and who deserves to “go down in history”
Marley: Michael Jackson didn’t go down in history. No one likes his songs anymore, but people still like Einstein.

Air dry
Me: You forgot to pack a towel for swim practice. Did you borrow one from a friend?
Marley: No. I just shook myself like a dog and then put my clothes on.

Dining options
Pierce: I’m not going to that restaurant. I would rather go to a Barbie museum or even meet a grizzly bear.

On being generous
Pierce: You’ve got lots of generosity left. So, why don’t you just give some of it to your son? It’s refillable. Yes it is. And when you give some away, you get more. Yes you do. But instead of using some, you are being selfish and making me go to the restaurant. Why are you not giving any kindness today? You should really. Come on. Don’t make me go to the restaurant.

Secret message?
Marley: [Opens a Sweet Heart. It says “BE GOOD”] Is this a coincidence?

Luckily, our car is blue
Me: (Ranting at a driver who, of course, can’t hear me) Thanks for waiting, Cow.
Marley: Mom, why is she a cow?
Me: Because she just pushed her way through when it was my turn.
Marley: But wouldn’t she be a bull? Cows are gentle and bulls are angry.
Me: I guess so.
Marley: Well, then it’s good that we’re not in a red car.

 

Persistent Pierce

A happy Pierce on a farm
Happy Pierce on a farm

My youngest child, Pierce, is adorable. He has dirty blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, dimples and the cutest English accent. He’s funny, intelligent and driven to succeed. When he gets an idea in his head, he feels the need to do something about it – at that exact moment.  If you try to put him off said idea – say he wants to make a homemade volcano 10 minutes before you have a house full of guests arriving – he will pout, complain and argue his reasons for needing to create that volcano – At. That. Exact. Moment. You will kindly list the multiple reasons for his poor choice of timing and suggest that perhaps he make the volcano later that night or the following day. His response: an immediate about turn, audible sigh and loud complaint about the injustice of the world. One of his favourite phrases: “This is the worst day of my life.”

Ten minutes later, Pierce will try his argument all over again. It doesn’t matter how many times I say “no,” or “maybe tomorrow.” It doesn’t matter that I have rarely caved once I’ve declined his idea. All that matters in my sweet little eight-year-old’s head is that he has been done a great disservice. And somehow he believes that the more he begs, pleads and intelligently argues his point, the more likely he is to get what he wants. Unfortunately, all he ends up getting is an exhausted parent.

Once Pierce gets an idea in his head, he won’t let go of it – sometimes for up to a year. He went to a friend’s laser tag birthday party and told us twice a day – EVERY DAY – for three months why a laser tag party would be the best option for him. His birthday was 10 months away. He drew diagrams, he created a pros and cons list. I’m sure he would have drafted a spreadsheet if he knew how to use Excel. His persistence paid off. His laser tag party was apparently the “best party of [his] whole life.”

Unfortunately for Pierce, being tenacious doesn’t always win. For the past two years, he and his sister have wanted a dog. While we all like dogs and enjoy the idea of having a pet that you can actually cuddle (our fish aren’t big fans of hugs), we can’t get one for multiple reasons. We included all of these, including his dad’s severe allergies and the fact that we live in a small house with a postage-stamp sized backyard, in our pros and cons debate.

Despite the cons list being obviously excessive, Pierce has refused to give up his quest – for TWO YEARS. “Why can’t we get a dog?” he asks every time we see a canine. I’m so sick of answering the question I now feign deafness.

“I will be the happiest boy in the world if we get a dog,” he has tried. “Look at that dog over there. He would be perfect. I would never complain about anything again as long as I live. I will never do anything naughty again for my life. Please, please, please get me a puppy.”

While the promise of an end to his complaining is attractive, the cons still outweigh the pros.

A year ago, we visited friends who live on a farm in the countryside outside Bath. Pierce spent the weekend jumping on a trampoline in their enormous backyard, racing his friend up the mile-long driveway, looking for fish in the pond and petting horses we met during walks through the fields. A stark contrast to the busy metropolis of London, Pierce loved the serene beauty of the farm and decided that we needed to pack up and move – that day.  A year on, he’s still determined to live on a farm of his own – be it now or when he’s a grownup. Let’s hope we don’t have to debate it for the next 20 years!

Pros of a farming life
Pierce: There are a lot of advantages to having farms.
Me: You wouldn’t be able to go to the movies.
Pierce: That’s okay because we have our own movie at home. It’s called a fire. And we’d have lots of animals.
Me: But dad’s allergic to animals.
Pierce: Dad, are you allergic to pigs?
Dad: Probably.
Pierce: Well, they are outside anyway. And, we wouldn’t have to buy all of our animals because we could catch and trap them on our land. And then they’d all have babies so we’d have lots of animals running around.

Death talk
[Walking through a cemetery, we read the inscriptions on the gravestones, which lead to this discussion]
Dad: What would you want your gravestone to say?
Marley: Here lies Marley. She was a normal person who lived to 1,000.
Pierce: Here lies Pierce. His life’s mission was to get a farm but his parents wouldn’t let him so he led a sad life.

Farming wishes
Pierce: Our father who art in Heaven, hallowed is your name. Please can I have a farm and please can you make my wish to have a farm come true?

Another farming pro
Pierce: I would be very happy and excited every day after school to see the animals. To see if the crops had grown while I was at school and to jog a little and then harvest the crops.

Quest for a dog
Marley: I really want a dog. Can we trade dad for a dog?
Mom: No.
Marley: We can trade him to the pet store. He’s like a dog. Someone might buy him and set him free.

What would Jesus do?
Dad: If Jesus had one hour to wait for the bus, would he play Skylanders or do Rainbow Looms?
Marley: Could Jesus throw lightning bolts at someone?
Pierce: No, that was Zeus.

Disciplinarian Dad

Pierce: I bet if there was a strict Daddy test, you would be the strictest in the whole of London.
Dad: Yes! So that means I’m a champion?
Pierce: Yes, but a bad kind.

Sibling love
Pierce: These girls are being mean to me on the playground.
Marley: If it’s when the big kids come out, say “A whooga, A whooga” and dance around or just call my name. That’s probably easier. I’ll come help you.
Pierce: I’ll just call your name. I don’t want to look like an idiot.

My environmentalist
Pierce: People are being really mean at school. They’re stabbing a tree with pencils, getting the sap, putting it on a rock and selling it.
Mom: That poor tree.
Pierce: I know. It’s blood money. Those kids must have missed the day that we learned that trees are like humans. They’re living.

A letter to Marley’s bullies

My awesome girl!

Dear kids who’ve been bullying my daughter,

She can be annoying. I know. I’m her mother. She doesn’t like to take no for an answer, voices her opinions loudly and likes to bend the rules in her favour at any chance. She’s likely to tell you her life story—whether you want to hear it or not. She wears outrageous clothes that don’t match, gets excited about small things (like playing outside at recess) and sings whenever possible. She wants so much to be your friend that she sometimes enters your personal space, begs to be allowed to join in a game and laughs too loudly to hide her disappointment when you—once again—say “no.” These things bug you. I get it.

What you don’t get is the fact that these qualities are what sets her apart and makes her truly awesome.

To you, the fact that she screams with delight as the bell rings for lunch is yet another quirk that makes her different. She’s enthusiastic and joyful. She’s able to see the spark of bliss in small, everyday things and she’s not afraid to show her excitement to others.

To you, the fact that she will tell you about her latest crush or her favourite book is annoying. You didn’t ask and you don’t want to know; you wouldn’t tell anyone but your best friend. My kid is different. She’ll share anything with anyone – everything from a pencil to her secrets. Once you smile at her, she’ll likely consider you a friend for life. She’s open and caring. That makes her awesome.

When she shows off the pink PJs she hid under her uniform, you roll your eyes and laugh at her, not with her. You snicker about her boldness behind her back, claiming to be better than her because you wouldn’t dare wear your pyjamas to school. I, on the other hand, commend her for her courage. My kid suffered through wearing PJ pants underneath her tights for an entire school day just to prove a point. That’s dedication. She bent the school rules without hurting anyone in the process and, more importantly, she did so without getting caught. If hiding a bit of pink makes her feel better about herself in an environment in which she feels alone, then more power to her. What do you do that makes you feel happy?

To you, the fact that she cries in the corner when her feelings are hurt is yet one more thing she does to “get attention.” You smirk at her tears and run away, moving on to play a game of tag that you’ll never ask her to join.

I can guarantee if the tables were turned and it was you who was crying in the corner, my daughter would be the first one there, holding your hand and asking what she can do to help, even though you called her “weird” the day before. She’ll rush you to the nurse’s office if you’ve fallen down, even though you purposely stomped on her foot in the hallway that morning. That’s because she has the kindest heart of any child I’ve ever met. That also makes her awesome.

When you made that bar chart in computer class titled, “Who hates [my kid],” you thought it was funny, didn’t you? You and your friends had a good laugh over making the “hate” bar go higher and higher while the “like” bar remained a mere slit at the bottom. You probably didn’t even notice when my daughter’s eyes first registered what you’d done. You certainly didn’t feel the immediate stab of pain that pierced her heart; the lump that jumped into her throat, threatening to choke her. She was devastated, but she wouldn’t let you see that. She’s too brave.

Remember that time you bribed her with a pen? It was a bright sunny day and she was about to set foot on the playground for a quick run. You intercepted her on the stairs and said, “if you promise to play somewhere else today and leave us alone, I’ll give you a fountain pen.” My daughter’s always wanted a fountain pen; especially a white one like the one you promised to bring her the next day, so she agreed. In fact, she arrived home that night all smiles about her imminent reward. What she hadn’t realized was the fact that you were doing two things: paying her to go away and giving a promise you never intended to follow through on. My daughter learned a hard lesson that night; one that I hope she will never forget, and one I hope that you won’t have to learn in such a painful way – never sell yourself short. Stand up for yourself and play where you want to play.

Last year, my daughter sat at our kitchen table, painstakingly making Valentine’s cards for every single one of you. She spent an hour working with scissors, markers and glitter glue. Armed with her treasured creations, she left home with a bounce in her step. Once she got to school and handed you the card, her bounce was stilled. You looked at it. You snickered. Then you crumpled it up and practiced your free throw into the garbage can. High-fiving your buddy over your perfect shot, you didn’t see the pain that rippled through my child’s tiny frame. While you may dislike her, she genuinely likes you, despite (or perhaps because of) your faults. For reasons I will never understand, my daughter likes you despite the number of times you’ve crushed her spirit. Giving you a card was an opportunity for her to forgive you for the mean things you’ve done and said. She wanted to fill your proverbial bucket, to commit an act of kindness that would help you to feel better about yourself. She did it because she’s awesome. Instead, you chose to reject this kindness as if it was tainted and evil, not innocent and sweet. In so doing, you emptied my daughter’s bucket and caused a hurt so deep that she decided to never again send another Valentine – something she sadly stuck to this year.

My daughter doesn’t ask for much. She just wants to play with you, maybe sit with you at lunch or be chosen as someone’s partner in science class. She wants to be forgiven, just as we all do, for any mistakes she makes. She wants to be accepted for who she is and liked for her many attributes. She wants you to stop stepping on her toes, bribing her to go away and saying hurtful things. She knows you think she’s weird because you’ve told her. She knows you don’t like her because you’ve told her. She knows you think she’s annoying because you’ve told her.

That’s why she’s trying so hard to quiet down and back off. Before she enters the school gate each morning, my daughter quietly tells herself, “If you fit in, they’ll be nice. Just act normal.”

Let me tell you something: She is better than normal. And it breaks my heart in a way I never thought possible that, because of your cruelty, my exuberant daughter is trying to squash her personality to make you like her. I am the one who’s supposed to protect her from people like you, but I can’t because I’m not there.

How about we play a new game? It’s called “Give my kid a break.” It’s easy to play. All you have to do is put yourself in my daughter’s shoes. First, try to imagine feeling fearful every time you step outside for recess. Your body tenses as the boys run by, wondering if they’ll call you “ugly” or “dumb.” You worry that they’ll push you when the teachers aren’t looking. Then you spot the girls, gathered arm in arm in their cliques, laughing as they brag to you about yet another birthday party you weren’t invited to. You look for a friendly face to help soften the blow, but everyone avoids your eye or worse, whispers and points. How does that feel?

Now imagine, just once, being invited to join the fun everyone else is having, to be accepted as you are and to laugh freely along with the other kids without fear of being mocked or hurt. It’s so little to expect, really, but to my daughter, it would be life-changing.

I wish you would open your heart to her even for your own sake—to let yourself enjoy the fun that can come from being silly and joyful along with her. Maybe then you’ll be able to appreciate—even like—the awesome little girl who’s been standing in front of you all along. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll ask her to join your group for a game of tag. I’m certain you’ll be happy you did.

Why kids shouldn’t stick foreign objects in any orifice

Marley doing her thing in Spain.

When your child is nine, you expect her to entertain certain misdemeanours such as, hiding pyjamas under her uniform, stealing her brother’s favourite toy while he sleeps and doing a jazz hands dance in the middle of a Religious Education class. All of these have been tried (and perfected) by my Marley. Never one to abide by the rules, Marley will instead attempt to strike a fine balance between towing the proverbial line and hopping right over it with two feet landing straight in trouble. While I often admire her bravery, boldness and unique ability to care more about her immediate actions than their consequences, these character traits can be a little trying at times. But I know they will serve her well as she learns how to harness them.

With Marley, there’s no knowing what will happen from one day to the next. She can be a star pupil, awarded for hard work, kindness and creativity. The next day she’s pulled into the head teacher’s office for climbing up a window at playtime. When asked why she did it, she replied, “Because it was there.” When I see the school’s number pop up on my phone, I never know what to expect.

A week ago I received a call from the nurse at 10:30 am. “Mrs. McMurray,” she said sweetly. “I have Marley here with me and there’s been a bit of an incident in science class.” The first image that muscled its way into my mind was my beautiful daughter’s face being covered by an explosion of acid. Then I remembered that this was Marley. The image was quickly replaced by one of a burning classroom, blown up by accident due to Marley’s overenthusiasm while lighting a Bunsen burner with a flaming, gas-soaked cloth.  She never means for accidents to happen, but Marley’s the most accident-prone child I’ve ever met. If something’s going to break, it’s going to be at her unwilling hands. If a stranger is going to open a door into someone’s face, breaking her adult front tooth, it’s going to be Marley. If someone’s going to put her arm around a friend and accidentally elbow the girl behind her during the process, resulting in her being sent to the principal for malicious elbowing, it’s Marley.

As I went through all the possible science-class-related scenarios in my mind, the nurse continued, “I’m still waiting to see what her teacher has to say about this, but it appears that Marley has a considerable amount of Play Doh in her ear. It’s so far in that I won’t try to get it out for fear of making things worse. I think you’ll need to take her to the hospital.” I was silent for a moment as I processed this information. Did she say play doh? Stuck in my nine-year-old child’s ear? Even though this was Marley we were talking about, I couldn’t even begin to process how something like this could happen.

“It seems the children were doing an experiment on hearing and they were told to put various objects in their ears to see how they affected the way they heard sounds,” the nurse continued.

“That is seriously the absolute last thing I was expecting you to say,” I said laughing at the thought of how absurd this was. Marley had stuck a tiny plastic doll shoe up her nose when she was two, but seemed to have grown out of the “sticking things in orifices” stage after that. “Play doh,” I asked. “He seriously asked them to put Play Doh in their ears? I’ve always told them that nothing smaller than your elbow goes in your ear.”

“I know. I’m going to be speaking to the teacher. Don’t worry,” she said.

When I picked Marley up, she was ecstatic. “Hey Mom, I’ve got play doh in my ear. Isn’t that awesome?” There were quite a few words I could think of to describe this situation and not one of them was awesome. You see, I was recovering from an ankle operation and had a knee-high cast and crutches to contend with. As the ankle is my right one, I couldn’t drive and had to take taxis to and from school and the doctor’s office.  Oblivious to the added strain on my life, Marley giggled beside me in the car, happy to be let off school early.

“So he told us to put cotton in our ears and then rubbers (erasers) and then play doh,” she explained as she munched on a snack. “He told us if we could still hear, to push the play doh in a bit farther.  I could still hear, so I took a pencil and I jammed it in.”

My jaw dropped and my eyes bulged. “Don’t worry, Mom. I did it with the end that had the eraser, not the sharp end. I was safe,” she took another bite of cookie.

The doctor was amazed that a teacher would ever tell a class to stick foreign objects into their ears. She was even more amazed by how far Marley had managed to push it with the pencil. So far, in fact, that she, too, was unable to get it out. We’d have to go to the hospital to see an ENT.

Multiple hours later, she was home from the hospital, the play doh having been extracted with a special ear sucking machine. In her hand she held her trophy – a small clear plastic vial with a wad of blue play doh inside. “I can’t wait to show this to people at school,” she said. “Now I’m going to be ‘that girl who had play doh stuck in her ear.’”

As she was putting her newly prized possession in her book bag, Marley turned to me with a serious expression on her face. “I’m really sorry Mom. I didn’t mean for this to happen. And I didn’t mean for you to have to come and get me when you’re sore. Are you mad at me?” Her eyes were watery and chin sank towards her chest.

I pulled her into a hug. “No,” I said truthfully. “I mean I’m pretty sure you know better than to stick a pencil in your ear, but this wasn’t really your fault. It was your teacher’s.” Her eyes widened as her chin popped back up and a small smile crept on to her face. I’d never blamed the teacher for one of her escapades before. She liked this. “I’ll be writing him a letter later,” I said, “to tell him that I’m very upset with the fact that he told you guys to put things in your ears. That’s very dangerous and should never happen in a school.”

As I was kissing Marley’s soft forehead goodnight, I heard the bing of a new e-mail on my phne. I closed her door and checked my phone to find a message from my mother-in-law, whom we call Meema. It was the best response I could never send to Marley’s teacher (well I could have, but it wouldn’t have boded well for the future of her education).

Below is the e-mail in all its glory:

 

Dear [Marley’s] School.

Are you people for real?

Sorry we missed the “let’s hold an electric wire while standing in a puddle” class you taught last week.

Also, Marley will be absent for the “go-on try-it, it’s only a little bit poisonous” class next week.

Once long ago on a far distant planet, there was an expression “children do childish things”. The unspoken part being “adults should not enable them.”

Remember, the doctors motto “first, do no harm.”

Teachers should adopt the variation of that which goes something like: “stay one step ahead of the brightest kid in your class.”

Walt Disney said, “if you can dream it, you can do it.” Marley can not only do it, but do it in a way no child has done it before.

Sorry about all the quotes, but I just felt like doing it.

Kindest regards. Meema (don’t muck about with my grandchildren) Brown.

 

And now for a few quotes:

I’m sick
Marley: I think I have appendicitis in my armpit.

Upon faking sick – again
Pierce: Did you hear that? [his stomach rumbles from hunger] That’s vomit. It wants to come out and you’re still going to send me to school. Why can’t I make the decisions? I’m going to vomit on the floor at school and no one will want to be my friend and they will all be mean to me. And I will get them all sick. And you still want to send me? Do you think that’s good mothering?

Ebola fears
Pierce: What if Ebola comes in through my window at night?
Me: It won’t. You don’t get it that way. Only if someone coughs or sneezes on you. And Ebola is only in West Africa right now. There’s nothing to worry about.
Pierce: Oh no!
Me: What?
Pierce: You just ordered me that book online. What if someone from Africa who has Ebola touches it and then posts it to me? I’ll get Ebola. We’ll all get it. We’re all going to die. I’m never going to sleep again. It’s too terrifying. I’m never leaving this house.

Upon deciding whether to help his mom or his sister
Pierce: I’m being tossed between two women.

Upon being punished
Pierce: This is the worst thing that could ever happen. I’m going to die by morning.
Austin: Can I have your zombie costume?
Pierce: It won’t fit you.

Upon being punished – part 2
Pierce: I would like you. To understand. The words. That are coming out of my mouth. And that you are being unfair. Why do you punish me for my misunderstanding?

Faking sick

Not so sick after all!

My mom had an innate ability to tell when I was lying. Actually, she still does. As a child, I would lay in bed at night plotting my latest get-out-of-school scheme. I’d toss and turn thinking about various ways I could trick her into believing that school was cancelled, I was sick, it was a snow day (in May). I’d practice my best faces of illness in front of my white wicker mirror. There was the on-my-deathbed look; eyes open to mere slits, head lulled backwards and a tiny bit of tongue hanging out the side of my mouth. There was the my-stomach-is-about-to-explode look; cheeks puffed out with air, lips pursed, eyes squinted and forehead wrinkled. Finally there was the I’m-burning-with-fever look; a red face (achieved by placing a hot washcloth on it prior to discovery), blankets thrown off the bed as if pushed there in an uncontrollable feverish fit and a faint groaning noise that escaped my lips at well-timed intervals.

Poor Dad would come in to find me, lying prostrate and pathetic on my single trundle bed. He’d feel my forehead (which he always claimed felt hot) and say something like, “You poor thing. You’re definitely not going to school today. You’re way too sick.” My brain cells would high-five each other in delight. Pleased with my success, I would lay there, waiting for mom to arrive. My heart would skip a beat as I heard the jingle of her charm bracelets nearing my room. Dad was easy. This one, on the other hand, was a tough one to deceive. I readied myself physically and mentally for the performance of my very short lifetime. “Alright, what’s the matter,” she’d ask briskly.  “I really don’t feel well,” I’d moan, offering my most pathetic face.

Mom would place her soft, dainty hand on my forehead for no more than a second before delivering her verdict. “You’re fine. Up you get and go down to breakfast. If you miss the bus you’re going to regret it. Nice try, though.” With that, she was off. I watched as her curly auburn hair bounced out of my room before punching my mattress in frustration. “UGH!” I’d scream into my pillow. “How does she always know?”

Now, over nine years after having become a mother myself, I’ve discovered the secret to her success. It’s all in the body language. At the height of my immaturity, I hadn’t yet realized the tell-tale signs that gave me away. Averting my gaze to avoid eye contact, slouching my shoulders, quickening my breathing and sweating at my temples all blew my cover before I could even let out a fake groan. If it wasn’t for signs like these, my own children would likely be home from school at least three days a week.

Take the most recent example. It’s 6:20 am, a full forty minutes before our children are officially allowed to awaken us. Pierce bursts through our bedroom door saying in a very calm voice, “Mom, I just vomited in my room.” I jolt awake, jump out of bed and rush up the stairs while thinking of the Google search I’ll have to do to figure out how to get barf out of the carpet. Then I notice my son, the “sick” child, skipping up the steps. “Strange,” I think in my still sleep-clouded mind. “He’s quite energetic for a kid who was just sick. And he isn’t even crying.” Still, I give him the benefit of the doubt and enter the room of supposed illness. Happily, I was not met with an overpowering smell of vomit. His room smelled like boy and sleep.

“There,” he said in a crackly voice, pointing with a limp arm to a wet splotch on the floor. “That’s where I did it. And there’s a bit here on the bed as well.” I leaned in for a closer look only to notice that the wet spots were remarkably well contained. There were no chunks. There was no splatter. So I, as only a mother would do, garnered up my courage to bring my nose to the splotch on the bed. I took the risk and inhaled. Nothing. There was no pungent, gag-inducing smell of upchuck. This was a smell of water. I placed a finger on the splotch to test my hypothesis (you were right Dad, Science did come in handy in real life). It was cold to the touch.

I turned around to assess the situation. There was Pierce, standing in the doorway of his room, averting his eyes from my own. His chin was tucked into his chest and he was rubbing his left toe on the carpet. “Pierce,” I said calmly but firmly, channelling my own mom. “I need you to tell me the truth. Did you pour a cup of water on the bed and the floor?”

His breath caught in his throat. His tiny Adam’s apple moved up and down as he swallowed, deciding how to answer. “No, I swear. I drank a cup of water. Maybe I coughed and it all came out?” My response: “Here’s a towel. Clean it up, get dressed and get downstairs for breakfast. If we’re late for school you’re going to regret it. Nice try by the way, but next time the water should at least be warm.”

Ebola talk
Marley: Don’t tell people at school about Ebola.
Pierce: Why not?
Marley: Because they’ll all be scared and then they’ll die.

What’s a back scratcher?
Marley: Mom, what’s a back scratcher?
Me: A stick of plastic or wood with a thing that looks like a hand at the end. People use it to scratch places they can’t reach.
Marley: Oh yeah. It’s that thing that old men use.

Cheating
Marley: You know Pierce? He’s cheating on his girlfriends. First he kissed Maxime and then he kissed Sarah.
Pierce: I didn’t even like Maxime.
Marley: Well, you kissed her.
Pierce. No, she kissed me.
Marley: It still counts.

Fish training
Me: What are you doing? [Pierce has dropped a marble into the fish tank]
Pierce: I’m trying to teach the fish to be professional footballers. Every time they nudge the marble I give them a flake of food. That’s how you train them.
Me: But why do you want to do this?
Pierce: Because people think fish are dumb and I’m trying to prove them wrong. I’m going to be famous. I might even get into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Why Pierce looks different
Karine [our friend]: Something in Pierce’s face has changed since we saw him in June.
Pierce: Well, I AM the son of an engineer.

A new letter
Pierce: It would be really hard to invent a new letter to the alphabet. Try it.
Me: Umm…
Pierce: See? It’s hard, isn’t it? Well, I invented one. It’s called Nieh. It’s like a mixture of N and M. And it looks like Pi the number with a little line through the middle.

Cranky Pierce
Me: Pierce, think of one happy thing that happened today. One positive thing.
Pierce: I wasn’t killed.
Me: Something other than that.
Pierce: I didn’t get Ebola from a pigeon in Africa.

My forgetful little chap

Pierce reading to his monsters prior to forgetting them.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a kid. You’re constantly told what to do, where to sit and when to eat. You have to flush the toilet and wash your hands – every time! You have to do homework, read when you don’t want to and stop reading when you do want to. Sometimes you even have to do chores; like make your bed, put away your laundry (that’s been cleaned for you) and clear your dinner plate (that was filled for you). There are perks to being a child; like having a personal shopper, nurse, driver, housekeeper, chef and educator at your royal beck and call. Oh, and don’t forget the free room and board, gratuitous laundry service and sponge baths.

Despite these pros, my seven-year-old has declared his life to be unfair (for the umpteenth time). Ever since starting year three at the prep school this past September, Pierce has been struggling with an increase in independence. Instead of having his clothes lovingly placed on his chair each night by me he now has to figure out which uniform he wears (gym, sports or regular) and put it out by himself. He has to pack his book bag and ensure that he’s brought the five books he needs each day. Despite my frequent reminders (and his teacher’s) Pierce has been forgetting everything from books to clothes to his entire book bag. Within two days, he’s left our house coatless, sweaterless and minus his school book bag. Once he left without wearing shoes. “I’m such a forgetful little chap,” he says.

Pierce’s mind is always racing. It’s filled with hundreds of facts, desires and cravings; so many things that he has trouble concentrating on the task at hand. Often I find Pierce standing on the toilet seat, looking at himself in the bathroom mirror with no idea why he’s there (to brush his teeth). He’s gone up to his room to find a book and come down 20 minutes later with nothing but a Lego car.

The other week I spent 35 minutes training him to tie his shoelaces (he was threatened with a detention if he didn’t learn how to do it by his next sports lesson). After 11 successful attempts at doing it himself, Pierce was excited to show off his new skill to his teacher. At home that night, I asked how it went. He looked slowly to the floor and lowered his head. “Don’t worry,” I said encouragingly. “We just need to practice more and you’ll get it.” “That’s not it,” he cried in frustration. “I did it. I really did it. But I forgot to take off my pants first and my shorts were underneath. So I had to undo my shoes, take off my pants and start all over. I was so far behind that the teacher had to do it for me.”

A few weeks after the shoe incident, Pierce begged me to let him bring his two beloved monsters to the library. I caved in and there we sat, Marley with a life-sized teddy bear, Pierce with his bright green polka-dotted monsters cuddling on the itchy, turquoise carpet. Pierce’s hands were too full to check out the books he chose, so he placed his cuddly friends on a table by the front door while he approached the circulation desk. He was so excited about the new Beast Quest books that he forgot to grab his monsters on the way out. It wasn’t until 8:30 that evening, half an hour after the library had closed, that we realized his mistake. A massive wave of hysteria ensued. The type of hysteria that no person without a child who’s lost a favourite toy could possibly understand. There were tears, there was choking, there was writhing and yelling.  Poor Pierce was a mess.

This wasn’t Monster’s first adventure. Three summers prior, Pierce forgot him at his uncle’s house in Canada which resulted in Monster’s first ride in a FedEx truck from Belleville to Toronto in order to make it to us in time for our flight back to the UK. Two summers ago I left a backpack on a train in New York (I’m blaming it on jet lag). Inside that bag was our good camera and, more importantly, Monster. Each time, Monster miraculously found his way home to us, as did the camera (phew). In case things didn’t work out, we always knew there was a backup monster waiting on Pierce’s bed (that’s why we had two in the first place). Unfortunately, this time Pierce had left them both.

“I’m the worst babysitter ever,” he screamed through his sobs that night. “I can never be a real babysitter. I will lose the kids.”

After he calmed down a bit, Pierce asked, “What percent chance is there that I find my monsters tomorrow?”

“95,” I said, hoping that my smile and high statistic would be reassuring.

Pierce’s eyes widened, his mouth dropped open and he wailed once again.

“95!? 95!? What happened to the last five per cent? Where’s that five percent?!”

The next hour and a half continued in much the same panicked, frenetic vein until Pierce had tired himself out enough to fall asleep. The following morning he literally jumped out of bed and begged me to go the library. He watched the clock and paced the sidewalk until their doors opened at 10:00. He and Marley rushed to the desk, pushing everyone else aside, to find a cheerful librarian who had two monsters huddled together, safely under her desk.

Since then, Pierce has worked really hard on remembering things (and never takes a monster out of the house). While he may still put the wrong shoes on (dress shoes with his gym uniform and vice versa) he’s at least remembering to dress himself. As for his books, Austin (his dad) seems to have the problem solved. For every book Pierce remembers, he receives one chocolate chip. For every book he forgets, he gives one of those chips to his dad. He’s brought home every book for a whole week now. That’s 35 chocolate chips to date! I wonder if this technique will help him clean his room as well.

Monster love
Pierce: I would rather never go to Disney World in my life than not see my monsters again.

Switched at birth
Pierce: I was kidnapped on the day I was born and that is very unlucky. Then they hid me in the hospital because what’s a better place to hide a baby than in a place that is full of babies? And people kept taking home the wrong babies. But then they had one spare baby so they just gave me to you and I was the spare baby.

Why I’m no longer allowed to speak in public
Pierce: Please don’t talk to me when I’m around my friends because you have a magic power to accidentally say something that embarrasses me.

Mad teachers
Pierce: Marley, you know your new teacher? Her eyeballs may pop out when she gets angry and you might become terrified.

Why Scotland wants to separate
Pierce: I think I know why the people want to vote Yes for Scotland. Because they are scared that they will lose their Scottish accent if they stay with England and that they won’t be able to wear their kilts anymore.

The meaning of love
Marley: I think I may be suffering from RCS.
Me: What is that?
Marley: Roller Coaster Syndrome of Love. It’s when you are in love with someone. Pierce: Is it me?
Marley: Ewww. No. You’re my brother. There is family love and then there is loooooove.

Why playing with kids is dangerous
Me: You were really good playing with your cousins.
Pierce: I know. I even gave them piggy backs and that nearly broke my spine.

A muzzle?
Marley: Why is that woman wearing a metal mask?
Me: Because of her religious beliefs.
Marley: I thought it was because she bites people.
Pierce: Like Louis Suarez. He should have to wear one, too.

Music snob
Marley: She likes One Direction. Seriously. We just can’t be friends.

Death tax
Marley: When you and Dad die, can I claim all your cutlery and plates?
Pierce: I call all the money.

Rite of passage
Me: What is on your nose?
Marley: Don’t touch it. It’s a pimple. It’s my first pimple. I named it Henry and I water it every day.

The upside of eating soap
[after catching Pierce licking soap off his hand in the shower]
Me: What were you thinking, eating soap?
Pierce: People always talk about washing your mouth out with soap and I wanted to see what it was like. And it’s not bad. If I had to eat it, I could do it. You know how sometimes you eat a food and then you don’t really taste it until later?
Me: Yes, that’s called an aftertaste.
Pierce: Well, that’s what happened with the soap. At first it was gross and then it wasn’t really bad at all. It tasted a bit like salad and that’s not too bad really.

Tooth fairy recon
Pierce: What time do you think the tooth fairy comes? I’m going to find out if she’s real once and for all.
Marley: She comes at one in the morning.
Pierce: Okay, I’m staying awake. We’ll finally know the truth. [10 minutes later he was snoring]

Sharknado review
Pierce: Why do you think that movie was bad?
Me: Because the acting was so horrible and unbelievable.
Pierce: But the screaming was really good. I never want to be eaten by a shark and then have to cut my way out of it with a chainsaw.

Camping oh camping I hate you, you stink

A fire at last.

Some days I miss living in Canada so much I can feel an ache in my heart. I pine for the smell of coniferous trees, fresh water lakes and wild flowers of Algonquin Park; the peaceful quiet of an early morning canoe on Lake Muskoka and the taste of Ontario sweet corn fresh from the BBQ. I yearn for the solitude of portaging through the musty woods, lake water dripping down my back as I manoeuvre my canoe from one lake to another.

As a kid I spent half of my summers camping in Algonquin and the other half water skiing in Muskoka. There’s nothing like the sound of gentle waves lapping a rocky shore to set you off to sleep at night; especially after a day spent playing in the fresh air. Fast forward more years than I care to count and I’m a mother of two, living first in New York and now London – two of the most bustling cities in the world. Instead of Algonquin, my kids get a trip two blocks away to South Park where we jostle for space on the grass to set down our picnic blanket. Instead of Muskoka, we go underground, on the Tube (subway), into the heart of the city to see museums or explore the Borough Market.

While these experiences are amazing in their own rite, I’ve always felt the need to introduce my city slickers to the great outdoors that lie beyond our polluted boundaries. At first, we took road trips, staying in B&Bs throughout England’s vastly meadowed countryside. The kids mooed at the cows, baaaed at the sheep and climbed on the ancient rocks of Avebury. They loved being wild and free as much as we did, but heading back to a warm and cosy inn at night seemed like cheating. So we dusted off our unused tent from years gone by, packed the essential ingredients for S’More making and headed to the woods.

Our first camping destination was the New Forest in Hampshire, a two-hour drive south west of London. Famed for its wild ponies and cows, the kids couldn’t wait to start exploring. We drove into the campground only to be bombarded by tent after massive tent. While there were trees, most of them surrounded flat, highly tented areas. Music thumped from various stereos. This was no Algonquin Park.

After a half hour spent traipsing through the campground, Marley found a secluded spot in a miniature forest all our own. We couldn’t believe our luck. We put up our 6-man tent (which paled in comparison to the mansions surrounding us) and got out the marshmallows when Pierce saw a sign nearby. “Mom,” he said, “this says you can’t build fires. Are they serious? What about our S’Mores? You promised us S’Mores.” As we crowded around the sign in disbelief, trying to divert Pierce’s imminent tantrum, we heard a rustling nearby. Behind us, head-first in our bag of snacks, was a wild pony, happily mowing down on the graham crackers while simultaneously pooing outside the entrance to our tent. We shooed him away as Pierce fell to his knees in tears wailing, “We’ll never have S’Mores now. This is the worst day of my life.”

After cleaning up the mess, we went into the tent to tell ghost stories. In the middle of Austin’s tale about a headless zombie Barbie came an intensely loud, screeching sound that seemed to rip through our fabric walls. A freight train roared down a track that had was hidden behind the trees. This wonderful invasion of our silence was repeated hourly until midnight and started up again at five am. We’d discovered why no one else wanted to camp in this enclave.

For our second trip, I booked a campsite that boasted a man-made lake. We drove in to the site at dusk only to find out that the average age of the campers was 65 and children were not allowed to camp near the lake nor in the treed areas. Our only option was to camp between cars in a parking lot. We left in search of Austin’s back up site (luckily he’d had reservations about my pick). This one was perfect. It had just opened, which meant there were only three other families camping on the entire site and we were the only family to camp in the woods. We were finally allowed to build a fire and the musty forest smelled almost Canadian. Perfection. Until we went home to find a few unwanted visitors – we had 16 tics between us.

This year, Austin decided to up the bar on our camping holiday. In addition to packing the tic remover (a very practical Christmas present from my sister, Cinda) he found “the deal of the century” on what I call the Man Tent (it has two bedrooms and a living room). He even bought a tent carpet to go inside (who knew he was such a yuppie?). Now THIS was camping. No more crouching to get dressed, bumping into wet walls or rolling on to a kid in the night.

We drove to a site in Hampshire again, arriving as the sun began to make its descent and the rain began to pour. By the time we set the tent up it was pitch black and everything was wet; including the sleeping bags and our air mattress. We couldn’t set up a shelter to protect our stove, so we ate sandwiches inside and went to bed shivering. The next day, we woke up damp and cold. We played in the puddles, ate wild raspberries, lighted a fire during intermittent dry periods and made Pierce’s coveted S’Mores.

That night I went to bed thinking that our luck had turned around in terms of camping. We’d had a good day, the rain had finally stopped and if we wore every piece of clothing we packed we actually stopped shivering. Then it hit. A horrible grumbling and churning in my stomach. The tell-tale sign that an allergen had made it into my dinner. I tried to reason with myself, begging my stomach to calm down and avoid what I knew would be a disaster. I thought of all my escape routes to a toilet. The nearest outhouse was a three minute walk through the woods in the dark. A real toilet was about a mile away. I was trapped. My stomach refused to cooperate, churning itself to the point of no return. Whatever I had eaten wanted out – at that exact moment.

So off I ran, my foot tangling itself in the multiple layers of the Man Tent’s door, to the nearest tree. I scanned the area with my flashlight for stinging nettle – I didn’t need to add a run in with that to my list of ailments.  After four trips like this, I decided I needed a real bathroom. I took the car keys, drove to the toilet block, making two wrong turns on the way (every tree looks the same at night). I spent the rest of the night shivering in the car and making mad dashes for the loo. Oh the glamour of roughing it.

The next morning I drove back to find Marley under the covers, glued to her father like Velcro, shivering with lips purple from the cold (it was eight degrees). Her only change of clothes was soaked from being unknowingly pressed against the side of the tent all night. Pierce was frantically itching his head, screaming that he had lice. He didn’t. But he did have an entire family (including great grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins) of tiny black flies who’d made their home in his dirty blonde hair. His poor scalp was covered with itchy red welts from where they’d bitten him. The rain began to fall once again so we packed up our tent and headed back to the city as fast as we could.

The evolution of Pierce
Pierce [Swinging from the monkey bars]: You know how monkeys turned into humans? Well, I think I still have some monkey in me. I’m awesome at this.

My little stunt man
Pierce [Jumping from one piece of equipment to the next at the park]: Since I got out of your belly I’ve been doing stunts my whole life.

Body building technique
Me: Pierce, do you need help? All the blood is rushing to your face.
Pierce [Hanging upside down from the monkey bars]: I’m just working on building up my upper body strength.

Marley’s pain scale
Marley: My head hurts so much. I’m in exfoliating pain.

The genetics of stunt men
Pierce: I must have stunt blood in me because I know that I was born to do stunts.

Pierce’s song:
It’s a hard life living in an orphanage.
I’ve never seen a flower
Or a tall, tall tower.
Or a king with great power.
I’ve never heard the sound of the fish in the sea.
Going splish, splosh, splash.
Or even a dog going woof, woof, woof, woof.
It’s hard living in an orphanage.
I wish for once we could eat porridge.
Instead of dead chipmunks and rotten roasted squirrel.

Playground antics
Marley: I was playing in the playground and then somehow I found myself in a “who has the cutest underwear competition.”

 

We were for some reason picked up from the airport in a stretched limo when we visited my parents in Florida a few months ago. The kids now expect this kind of treatment whenever we travel. Here’s what they had to say about driving in the lap of luxury:

Pierce: I’ve got this whole limo to myself.
Pierce: When I grow up, I’m going to make a lot of money and buy myself a limo.
Pierce: Is this a dream? No. It’s actually real life. And this is me. In a limousine. Oh yeah. This is the good stuff.
Pierce: This is the best car in the universe.

Marley: People probably think we’re really rich.
Pierce: Is that a good thing?
Marley: Uh, yeah!

Marley: This is a dream come true. This is the best day ever.
Marley: I’ve got this whole limo thing down.
Pierce: I’m definitely going to buy myself a limousine. And I’m going to buy servants to drive it for me.

Me: I guess the whole napping in the car thing isn’t going to happen, huh?
Marley: No way. We don’t want to miss a second of this.
Pierce: Don’t blink Marley. Hold your eyelids open so you don’t miss a second. Mom, please pass me a champagne glass and some more orange juice.

A lesson in gambling

The smiles before the storm.

The other day Austin made a bet with our kids. He took them aside while we were touring a quaint town called Figueres in Spain and said the following: “I bet you 2 Euros that Mom takes a picture of that alleyway.” The kids were overjoyed when they heard of the possibility to earn easy money. All they had to do was convince me to look the other way, thereby missing the beauty of said alleyway and they’d be on their way to the bank with two gold coins weighing down their pockets.

Before continuing with this story, I feel it is important to note that I am an avid picture taker (much to my husband’s chagrin). I see beauty in the rusted iron gate hanging off its hinges in an English church courtyard and the cracked, blue wooden shutters on the side of a Croatian villa. I find the splendour in dead fish propped up on ice in Thai fish markets and the magnificence in brightly coloured dragon fruit for sale in Singapore. Most of all I love to photograph streets and alleyways. Each one represents a passageway into a different culture, history and lifestyle. Regardless of which town, city or country these streets reside in, they are unique. From the Italian cobblestone paths walled in by crooked old buildings to the captivating canals of Amsterdam with their towering houses leaning in for a better view. While I appreciate the charm (both physical and photographic) of these passages, my family definitely does not. Hence the bet.

Instead of diverting my attention as we neared the Spanish alleyway of interest, my kids specifically pointed it out – a street so majestic I felt humbled by its beauty. The ground was covered by stone tiles in various colours and shapes – blue, red, white, oval, rectangular, octagonal. I immediately fumbled for the camera bag. “No Mom,” Marley said. “You don’t want to take a photo of that. It’s so boring.”

“How can you possibly find that boring? Look at the beauty all around you right now,” I replied, removing the camera.

“Honestly Mom, that’s the worst street there is. There’ll be a better one later. Let’s keep walking,” Pierce tried.

But it was too late. I was besotted with the black iron balconies hanging one storey above on either side.

“Mom, no,” Marley screamed as I removed the lens cap. She appeared in front of me, the street bending behind her tiny frame towards a magnificent yellow house with intricate carvings on its exterior. The sun shone upon its elaborate markings, enhancing their brilliance, begging me to release the shutter.

“Perfect,” I said to the kids as they stared at me in horror. “Now smile.”

“Noooo,” Pierce wailed as the camera clicked. He dropped to his knees on the exquisite tiles and sobbed.

“What the…” I asked, bending down to see if he was alright.

“Why did you have to take that picture? Why do you always have to take so many pictures? Now you’ve cost me 2 Euros,” he cried.

“What on Earth are you talking about?” I questioned, pulling him to his feet.

“Dad bet us that you would take a picture of that street and if you didn’t he’d give us 2 Euros. And now because you did we have to give him 2 Euros. That’s so not fair.” Pierce was yelling now, tears streaming down his snot-covered face.

After a long chat about how grownups should not bet money (only hugs) against children, Pierce calmed down enough to wipe his face clean. “I will never ever bet anything ever again,” he choked out during one last sob.

Fast forward to this morning, one and a half weeks later.

Marley: Pierce, I will pay you £1 if you let me put hair clips in your hair and take a picture.

Pierce: No way.

Marley: Okay £2.

Pierce: Okay.

Me: Pierce. I see three major problems with this situation. 1) She will never pay you as you should have learned from previous experiences [he once massaged her stinky feet in the back of a car for 30 minutes without ever receiving the £2 reward]. 2) She will show that picture to everyone she knows. 3) Didn’t you learn a lesson about gambling when we were in Spain?

Pierce: Okay I’m not doing it.

Marley: No, I swear. I won’t show anyone and I will pay you the money. I promise. All you have to do is let me put a few clips in your hair. No one will ever know. [She bats her eyelashes at him]

Pierce: No.

Marley: [Bats eyelashes again with no response] Okay, £5 then.

Pierce: £5? Fine.

[Marley puts 8 glittery pink and purple hairclips in his thick blonde hair and has me take a picture with my phone. Pierce starts sobbing uncontrollably saying he made a mistake.]

Pierce: Delete it. Delete it. I don’t want the money.

Marley: Never. We had a deal.

[Pierce sobs on the floor at my feet]

Me: Marley. I’m deleting it. Look at how upset he is. No bet should ever make someone this upset. But Pierce, you will never get that money. You didn’t fulfil your end of the bargain and in future, I’m not going to save you from bad decisions like this one.

[I delete the picture.]

Marley: Noooooo! [screaming like I had run over her favourite cuddly toy with the car] That is so unfair. We made a deal and now you deleted it. You ruined my day.

Pierce: YOU ruined MY day.

And so it went. All. The. Way. To. School.

Pierce’s busy day
Pierce: I had a very busy day today. I breathed in and out. My muscles moved thousands of times. My teeth chomped food. So after all, I did have a very busy day.

Important parenting lessons
Pierce: When I am a grownup, will I have a meeting where they tell you stuff about being a parent? Like they’ll tell you if Santa’s real. And if he isn’t that you have to buy presents for your kids and write their names on them in different writing than your own?
Marley: No. You learn about that stuff in college.

How to survive the Nazis
Pierce: If I was captured by a not so mean Nazi and he said “I won’t kill you if you cut strawberries all day and all night,” I’d do it to survive.

What if you died at Disney World?
Pierce: What would happen if you died at Disney World? I bet they’d give you a lot of free passes for rides.

The downside of being stuffy

Pierce: How do I get rid of this cold? I’m so stuffy and it always ruins everything. Like sometimes the best 10 singers in choir get to do a special song. They definitely won’t pick me if I can’t breathe.

Norse Goddess of what?
Marley: Freya is the goddess of love and flirtility.
Me: What?
Marley: The F word that makes you pregnant.
Me:
Marley: You know.
Me: Fertility?
Marley: Yeah, that.

A backhanded compliment
Pierce: Mom, your apple crumble is much better than the one at school. I almost like it.

History lesson
Austin: What did King Henry VIII do to be able to divorce his wife?
Marley: He made himself Head of the Church.
Austin: Right. And what was the religion he created?
Pierce: Umm.
Me: It starts with a p.
Pierce: Plankton
Marley: Polish

Musical injury
Pierce: Mom, I got a really serious injury at school today.
Me: Really? You look okay. What hurts?
Pierce: My thumb. Look at it. [Shows me a blister]
Me: That’s a big blister. How’d you get it?
Pierce: I was doing something really serious and really important.
Me: What?
Pierce: Playing the ukulele.

Inside the mind of a boy
Pierce: Jacob and I were so busy talking today we didn’t even notice other kids playing near us.
Me: Really? What were you talking about?
Pierce: I don’t remember.
Me: Was it about lunch? Or Movies? Or football?
Pierce: Oh, I know. I think we were talking about whether zombie willies will save the universe.

Marley’s quest for a pet
Marley: I want a dog. When can we get a dog?
Me: You have a brother. He can be your dog.
Marley: But he can’t even run around and chase his tail.
Pierce: It would be kind of cool if I could chase my own bottom.

Why my kids think I’m so awesome – NOT

Me trying out a new “punishment.”

Apparently, life as one of my children isn’t easy. According to my first and second-born, I have too many rules: No hitting, no punching, no lying. I require them to do too many chores: Make their beds, get dressed, brush their teeth. They must eat what’s put in front of them or go hungry. And worst of all, I force them to go to school each and every school day. I know; I’m tough. It’s a wonder they haven’t run away from my Stalinesque regime to a home where rainbows and puppy dogs reign.

Instead, my little cherubs buck up and brush their teeth (or lie about it convincingly), put on  their uniforms (sometimes with pyjamas hidden underneath) and begrudgingly make their way to the hallowed halls of learning with me leading the way.

After school I impress upon them the importance of actually doing the homework they’ve been assigned (ignoring the ensuing tantrums), feed them a dinner they may or may not like and every once in a while force them to clean themselves – with actual soap and water – in a bath. Once tucked warmly into their beds, my children plead for “just one more” bedtime story and “just one more teeny little song” as I play deaf, quickly descending the stairs towards wine.

It’s not easy being this awesome a mom. I mean seriously, sometimes I can’t fall asleep with all the positive thoughts about my innate ability to mother. Yet my kids still seem to think that I’m lacking. So here’s a blog devoted to a few of their critiques. Enjoy!

Way too spicy Sloppy Joes
Pierce (before tasting the food): Can you never make me Sloppy Joes again?
Me: No. You can’t always have your favourite food for dinner. You eat what I make or you’ll be hungry.
Pierce: Well, can’t you just write down somewhere that I don’t like Sloppy Joes? Like in a notebook or something. Then put an X next to it and promise never to make it for me again?
Me: Just eat it.
Pierce (takes a bite): This is disgusting. Really. My mouth is on fire. Why are you torturing us?
Marley (after her first bite): Oh my God, oh my God. My mouth is burning. Like really. My lips are on fire. I can’t feel my tongue. [she proceeds to lick her milk like a cat]
Me: I admit that I may have been a bit too liberal with the chilli powder. I was in a rush.
Marley: What does liberal mean?
Me: That I used too much of it.
Marley: No kidding. I think there’s fire coming out of my ears.
Me: Alright, give me your plates. I’ll make you a hot dog. Just this once. And only because I agree that it’s way too spicy. Occasionally, even I make mistakes. And sometimes, just sometimes, I may even make a crummy dinner. But at least I admit it when I mess up, right?
Pierce: It’s not just sometimes Mom. Remember the time you made that chicken that tasted like rubber. Even Dad didn’t want to eat it. And the time you burned the popcorn in Florida and there was smoke everywhere?

Adding insult to injury
[Pierce rollerblades over my foot.]
Me: Ouch!
Pierce: Sorry. But at least the pain’s over now, right. It wasn’t so bad.

Math inept
Pierce: I can’t do this. It’s too hard.
Me: Hold on, let’s see. I’ll help you.
Pierce [pulling his book away]: No. Get Dad. I need Dad.
Me: Why? I know how to multiply.
Pierce: Mom, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings or anything, but Dad’s the one who’s good at maths. You’re good at other things, but just not maths. I still love you, though.

Another dinner disaster
Marley: Mom, please hear me out before you say that I’m being rude. Okay?
Me: Somehow I think I’m not going to like this, but go ahead.
Marley: Well, you know I like chicken, right?
Me: Yes.
Marley: Well, it’s just that this isn’t my favourite chicken. Actually, I don’t really like it at all, but I’m going to eat it anyway to be polite. So maybe could you please not make it again?

Wishing for another family
Pierce: I wish I died and was reborn into the Royal family.
Me: Why? You’d miss us too much.
Pierce: No I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t even know you.

 

And a bit more on becoming a Royal…..

How to become royalty
Pierce: You know how Dad is such a good fighter?
Marley: Yeah.
Pierce: Well, if he fights the king and defeats him, then he will be king and we can be in the Royal family. That’s how Henry VIII’s family got in line for the throne.
Marley: Well, that won’t work because we have a Queen.
Pierce: Oooh, that’s good. She’d be way easier to fight.

What royal kids do
Pierce: Do princes and princesses have playdates?
Marley: No. They don’t have playdates or homework or toys. They have duties.

How the Royal Family gets is money
Pierce: Does the Royal family have money?
Me: Yes.
Pierce: But not much, right? Why are they called royal if they’re not rich?
Marley: The royal family makes money with a special money machine, but you can’t buy it in shops.