Orange and black dots the landscape, natural and retail, as we head into Halloween. Now that my children are old enough to put together their own costumes, or perhaps forgo the whole process, I can afford to be nostalgic about dressing up little ones. Since going house to house is no longer as secure, exciting event I experience as a child, dressing up became the best part.
There was a time when I prepared for Halloween in July. I’ve always loved costumes but felt self-conscious myself. The universe has been generous enough to give me two children, a male and a female upon which to indulge my fantasy. I learned, however, that the universe has also provided them with very early opinions and a strong sense of self. Halloween was spelled “compromise.”
I dressed my daughter as a little devil for her first experience of thrills and chills. Raising an individualistic human being is such a shock for first-time parents, this could have been my Freudian slip. It may have been overkill, though, is the worst Halloween prank she was capable of doing was putting all the pumpkin “guts” back inside the hollow shell.
Her second Halloween, we taught her to distribute candy. Every time the doorbell rang, she screamed, “Kids! Treats!” For weeks the meter reader, salespeople, and soul savers were startled by this greeting often followed by shrieks of disappointment.
She had it figured out the third time around. Being a lover of smurfs and cats, she dressed as Azreal, the orange tabby on the cartoon show. After trick-or-treating at the homes of friends, we tried to bathe her. Between loud meows, she informed us emphatically that we were not to wash off the white face, black nose, and whiskers.
Periodically over the next few days, I dabbed at her face with a wet cloth, whereupon she would shriek angrily and run to the bathroom to make sure the cat face was still there. I hid her from the neighbours, concerned they might consider this neglect. It took three feet of bubbles in the tub to convince her that the kitty was “tired.”
The fourth year I dressed her as Snoopy, complete with face makeup. I guess I’m a slow learner. She refused to speak for the entire evening, expecting us to respond appropriately to bark whimpers. My husband took her to a few neighbours, one being the family with a small black poodle she adored. Every day she passed this place, she would pet the dog on the head and tell him he was pretty. Unfortunately, her costume was a bit too authentic. The poodle decided his home was being invaded by a large, poorly proportioned beagle and went after her. Daddy snatched her away from the jaws of the territorial pet, but was unable to protect her little heart from being broken. She decided Halloween really was a scary holiday.
The year I spent hours making her a tooth fairy costume, complete with embroidered bag on her hip, it snowed enough to allow Santa to ride sleigh down Main Street. The only clue to her identity was the wind mangled silver wings strapped to her snowsuit.
The next year I decided to go with the flow. She dressed as the Snow Queen in Han Christian Anderson’s classic fairytale. She wore a blue gown embroidered with silver snowflakes under her winter clothes, fuzzy white mittens, and a blue tinsel wig. It was another windy night. If I had lost sight of her, all I needed to do was follow the trail of blue tinsel.
My son preferred more traditional costumes, the more macho the better. I’ve never told him that I was tempted on his first Halloween to dress them in a suit and tie with black-rimmed glasses. He was such a plump, wrinkly baby that it would be easy to pass them off as Mr. Maggo. Instead, I dressed him as a smurf. He was about the right size and intelligence.
Although I don’t go into costumes with the same gusto anymore, I appreciate those who do. I love to attend the Halloween parade at school. Students and teachers come up with novel and weird ideas. Last year, one dressed as a black wolf. She wore a sign that said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m a vegetarian.” One student caught a quick glimpse of the sign, turned to his teacher said, “Why would I be afraid of a virgin?”
Beats me. It’s the little black poodles who are scary.
October 17, 1993
This book subtly addresses a complicated topic, that of infertility, with grace and beauty. I think it is written for parents to share with their children. I’m not sure if it’s necessary, though. Do children need to know that their parents had trouble conceiving and had to take medicine? Perhaps this is more of a book written for the prospective parents who are struggling. If this book is, indeed, meant to be shared with a child I think all they need to know is that the parents wanted them so much and had to wait such a long time. That’s enough to make the story precious for them.
The illustrations are sweet and gentle as are the words. You can feel the parents’ deep desire to have a child to love. When the baby finally arrives and dances on her father’s shoes it evokes strong emotion.
The text, however, has some problems. There are some phrases that are absolutely lyrical but it seems to jump from prose to rhyme to something else. At times, it stumbles.
We travelled far and saw many places that were really neat. The one I saw the clearest was a land with the tallest trees.
The tree and I walked down the beach so he could show the stars to me. “Have you wondered why your timing for this dance is in a freeze? Sometimes one must wait for that truly special girl you seek.”
“I have helped so many find their way; some aid you both sure need. Sometimes parents require some help to make a beautiful being. If you can’t create naturally, don’t fret; there is a way if you follow me. But to create another shows one’s love, so you cannot be bleak. Why shouldn’t you have this dance you truly seek? My magic medicine may help. It is a way, but you must follow it every day.”
Also, on my e-book version there were several pages that had gibberisheither in addition to the text or in place of the text.
S S S S adaa asdasad
qwdqwe qweqwe qweqwe
I think if the author polished the text and marketed it to parents, it could be very popular.
“Ouch! What did I step on?”
“No wonder you can’t shut the closet door! What is all this stuff?”
This is called pre-yard sale conversation.
In spite of my lectures on the value of money, the eternity of plastic, and the bane of clutter, my son collects plastic figures. Somehow we escaped G.I. Joe but not Masters of the Universe, superheroes, army ants, wrestlers, Ghostbusters, and now Ninja Turtles.
These are billion-dollar enterprises. Whenever my son gets close to completing the collection, new figures are introduced. He couldn’t live without a mailman who dropped his pants and transformed his belly into a toothy monster mouth. I saw him looking at our letter carrier with interest.
Manufacturers understand boys. Every year or two they create a new series to whet the collector’s flagging appetite. The stores are now stocked with Dick Tracy figures and, I’ll bet, Gremlins II are not far off. How about a politician series? Each figure would transform into a useless lump.
The bizarre thing is, these toys all have the same questionable play value. Good guys versus bad guy. They only vary in powers or abilities. Does it matter whether the figure can spit, spin body parts or mutilate?
When crossing my son’s room was like entering the Temple of Doom, I offered half the money from any toys sold. Suddenly that Dusty He-man didn’t seem so precious. It was easy to take the clutter induced, “Let’s have a yard sale.”
Conversations in closets, sheds and the basement went like this:
“Whose is this?” (Demanding)
“When’s the last time you used it?” (Disgusted)
“Not very long ago.” (Muttered)
“It’s filthy and has a spider’s web!” Stronger disgust.
“It’s still good.” (Quick)
“Great. Then someone will buy it.” (Insistent)
“But, I like it!” (Voice pitched higher)
“Then you’ll have fond memories.” (Decisive)
“Whose is this?”
When I finished the slag pile of saleable items, we made signs. My daughter warned us that her teacher said permanent markers cause brain cells to pop.
“Open a window,” I suggested.
“Pop. Pop. Pop,” muttered my son.
“We’d better do these outside,” I sighed. None of us could afford too much popping.
The usual types came to the yard sale.
Happy Bargainers laughed and socialized. Sometimes they offered less but never cheated.
The Lonely Scavengers had tentative voices and hesitated over each item. Once I showed an interest, they talked about their grandchildren (whose parents were probably tripping over plastic figures already).
The Serious Collectors looked for specific items, china or teaspoons, to complete their sets.
The Weasels got as much as they could for as little as they could any way they could. They didn’t smile and seldom conversed. They took off price tags, moved items into lower-priced boxes and offered a fifth of what was asked. One sent her tiny granddaughter, already wearing the jewellery, up to me with only half the money.
Finally, we packed it in. The leftovers were given to charity and the money was counted and divided. My son was ecstatic. He wanted to go to the mall immediately. There was one plastic ninja turtle villain he just had to buy.
Published 1992 in the Chronicle-Journal/Times-news.
David Suzuki once said that research indicates females have a higher developed sense of smell than men. I could have told you that. Most wives could have told you that.
Take Patty for example. She came home to a smell of gasoline in her house. Since she couldn’t track down the source, she phoned the fire department for advice. They said they would to come right over. She carefully explained that it was not an emergency. Nevertheless, two trucks, lights flashing and sirens wailing, roared up to her house. (It must have been a slow day at the fire hall.) The firefighters (all male) searched the entire building, top to bottom, inside and out while she stood in the shivering cold. Not one of them could locate the smell. In fact, not one of them could even smell it. The next day she learned that gasoline had been spilled in her driveway, soaked into the ground and wound up in the sump pump. That’s what she had smelled.
My husband and I often play the What’s That Smell? game. It goes something like this.
Me: “What’s that smell?”
Him: “What smell?”
Me: “That strange smell.”
Him: “What strange smell?”
Me: “Can’t you smell it? Over here. I think.”
Him: “No. I don’t smell anything.”
Me: “What do you mean, you don’t smell anything? It reeks!”
Him: “What reeks?”
Me: “Over here!”
Him: “I don’t smell anything.”
We played a continual version of What’s That Smell? Last autumn. I first noticed it when we switched to daylight saving time. It was a chilly morning. I woke, switched on the lights and turned on the furnace. A few minutes later, I asked, “What’s that smell?” The game followed the usual format. I left for work later in the day still unable to identify the mystery odor.
The smell worsened as the week progressed. Some days it was faint. Other days it seems slightly smoky. I decided there was something wrong with the heater system and telephoned a furnace expert. He arrived the next day.
“What’s that smell?” I asked him.
“What smell?” he replied.
He left after thoroughly checking the system. There was nothing wrong and he couldn’t smell of thing. He decided it was probably dust in the piping.
As time passed I narrowed the smell down to the living room. I decided there must be something stuck in one of the vents. After I vacuumed them out, however, the smell remained. I despaired of ever locating the source.
One morning as I sat quietly reading the newspaper, I heard a thump on a living room end table. Since the cats were all in the kitchen with me, I went to investigate. There sat a gently smoldering green blob. I picked it up and instantly recognized the scent. It seems some little person (I assume this was a trickster fairy since both my children emphatically deny responsibility) had hidden a soft plastic toy monster on top of the lamp’s bulb. Every morning when I turned on the tri-light, the plastic would heat up and start to smell. If the light was low, the scent was weak. If I turned the light on high, the fire smoldered and smelled stronger. The lampshade hid the melting toy from my sight.
I think my husband is tired of playing the smell game. He does the shopping and although I environmentally disapprove of air fresheners, he’s been smuggling them in. It isn’t going to make any difference though. With two kids and three cats there always mysterious organic and inorganic odor makers. In fact, when my son was helping clean the family room, I noticed something.
“What’s that smell?” I asked him.
“What smell?” he responded.
I looked at his bewildered expression.
“Nevermind, son,” I said. “I’ll ask your sister.”
I have three cats but I’m still a normal person. I’m not a victim of feline reproduction since I’m adamant about neutering. I’m a victim of innocence.
My daughter, my son and I went to buy a sweet white kitten, the fluffy heart-tugging kind they show in toilet paper commercials. It was for my daughter, a cat-aholic if there ever was one. It would be a low maintenance pet and we’d feel good for having saved an animal from euthanasia. Unfortunately, all the ivory colored kiddies were gone. My daughter asked to see a gray female that was caged with the black and white male. The woman in charge met us at the counter with both kittens.
“One for me!” cheered my son.
I protested in vain. The woman promptly dumped both in my arms explaining that they were littermates who hadn’t been separated since birth. A single kitten would be lonely. The pair would play more and be physically and emotionally healthy. The kittens looked up with their huge trusting eyes. My children stared pleadingly. The woman smiled and offered two for the price of one. Ten eyes, waiting. I was a goner.
The black and white kitten we named Patch was the friendliest. He also had ear mites, which required swabbing both cats twice a day for two weeks. There aren’t enough pillows or oven mitts in the world to stave off a panic kitten. My husband and I looked like we’d wrestled with thorn bushes.
They did keep each other company, for almost a year. Then Misty developed into an aloof, “don’t bug me, that’s if you can find me” cat. Patch was constantly rebuffed. In a sickeningly weak moment, I decided to get him another playmate and take the pressure off Misty. I waited until another white kitten was up for adoption.
I made it clear to the children that this was to be my kitten. The white kitten was fluffy and plump. It had one blue eye and one pink. Pink eyed white cats are sometimes deaf. I clapped my hands and made silly noises, but the cat did not respond. It was either hearing-impaired or very dull.
“Look at this one, Mommy,” called my son as he watched the loose kittens through the viewing window.
I was doomed from the first glance. A black and white kitten, one ear up, one ear down, was bouncing sideways across the floor. He stopped to tumble with a tabby, and then tried to crawl up the wall to the window, meowing frantically for attention.
“He’d make a good playmate for Patch,” said my son.
The moment the scruffy little fellow was put in my arms, he twisted around and licked me.
“He’s rather ratty looking,” I protested. “Why is he scratching his ear so much? I hope he doesn’t have ear mites.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” said the woman. “We put down any that have ear mites.”
My children’s eyes widened. They looked from me to the kitten in horror. It’s always the eyes that get me.
“We’ll take him,” I sighed.
He didn’t have ear mites but Virgil’s done more than his share of damage and had more than his share of trips to the vet. He gives new meaning to the word pest. He’s also funny and affectionate. Patch and the kids love him. So now, we have three cats, none of them white.
September 9, 1990
Although people often criticize the Santa Claus figure for intensifying the commercialism of Christmas, I enjoyed his special magic. I confess I was one of the greedy children who boldly listed numerous presents, numbered in order of desirability, with appropriate locations and prices. On Christmas, I tabulated the haul beside my stocking with my requests. It never matched, but I was thrilled that an enchanted immortal elf had come right into my small shabby house and left gifts of love for a little nobody like me.
Fortunately, my own children accepted my rules about Santa letters. Santa would fill their stockings and leave one special toy for each child. They could suggest one or two ideas, but it was up to Santa to decide. What? No list? Ah, but what a thrill knowing Santa might bring that extravagant toy advertised on Saturday morning cartoons, when Mom and Dad said it was too expensive. This put the jolly man in red on SUPERHERO status.
My children suspected that Santa did not have the same standards of “good” behaviour that Mom and Dad did. Didn’t the hair-puller up the street get an incredible Ghost Buster vehicle? Didn’t the manipulative girl from school get a Barbie bride doll? Santa obviously loved them in spite of their flaws and all these dire warnings about “watching out” and not crying or pouting were nothing but parental machinations.
Fuelling the legend did not come without its physical as well as financial price. Every year we would allow the children to stay up a little later for family carolling, the reading of THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and a check with CBC radio on Santa’s progress. They’d set out the snacks for Santa and his reindeer. (Honest, honey, Santa doesn’t mind store-bought cookies.) Mom and Dad would watch a bit of television or read for a while, naively assuming that the children would fall asleep during this time, enabling Santa to make his visit.
Not that our children didn’t appreciate what their parents brought. I always planned a perfect balance of gifts, equal number and equal cost. Christmas Eve, I would slip them into their sacks (I may not be able to fly in a sleigh, but I can save a few trees). The sacks are numbered, each child receiving the same number, opening them in the same order, and each matching number containing a gift of similar value. (Santa would have ho ho hoed himself silly.)
Inevitably, I would discover one of my daughter’s gifts hadn’t arrived. I would try to rejuggle them into balance of number and quality. Sometimes, I gave up and slipped a few bucks in place of the missing gift. I’d pile them carefully under the tree, then realize my son was missing a package. I already gave a gift of clothing to him on the night of the Christmas concert because last year’s outfit was suddenly too small, even though it fit the week before. Then, I’d root through the packages in search of the money, renumbering and rejuggling. (Fortunately, I have mellowed over the years.)
Time to check the children. Like four blue spotlights, their eyes shone in the dark. “Is it morning?”
“How could it be morning? You haven’t gone to sleep yet!”
“It seems like a very long time.“
Not as long as it was going to seem. Mom and Dad lay quietly in the dark, trying not to fall asleep and wake to the horror that Santa screwed up. Periodically, the toilet would flush, reminding us that little children awake past their bedtime have busy bladders. Eventually, we gave the big threat. “If you keep getting up, Santa won’t come. In a couple of hours, the sun will rise and he’ll have to head back to the North Pole without bringing your presents. Stay in bed with your door shut.”
Finally, Santa arrived. He dragged out all the presents that had been stashed in obscure places. He could have stored them in the bottom of their closets or under their beds and they never would have noticed amid all the refuse of Christmases past.
The stiff plastic bags sounded like gunshots going off in the night. To his surprise, many of the gifts still had price tags. Santa peeled and scratched, only to discover most have another price below. The tags stuck to his sleeves, his pants and the bottom of his big black boots.
He filled the stockings, then turned with a sigh. One looked fuller than the other. He knew that small gifts often cost more than large ones, but did the children? Of course, I didn’t mind if he used something from under the tree to help stuff the sock. He rooted through the sacks to find something that would fill out the smaller stocking, while I rejuggled all the presents again.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, we finally got it right.”
Click on the book cover for more information.
Timo wants to pull Dion’s loose tooth but his methods are pretty strange. Dion won’t let him touch it. All he can think of is how Timo’s crazy ideas will result in a lost tooth. Then the tooth fairy won’t come. Should Dion figure out how to get his tooth safely out or just let it be?
A funny, imaginative story with a subtle message of how worrying makes our fears grow.
Listen to the author read part of it on youtube
One of the best things about summer holidays is doing family activities you don’t have time for during the school year. Somehow, between all the lessons, columns and school events, we seldom take advantage of the free library and Parks and Recreation programs.
We even less often have time for special open-host club events or visits to parks and museums. My kids now know that summertime means examining antique dental chairs, feeding snakes, listening to lectures on the Precambrian Shield, peering through telescopes, tasting wild plants, or hiking through ruins.
Imagine my daughter’s surprise when I asked her if she wanted to go to a Rock Show.
By the time we were heading down the driveway, she realized there would be no loud music or flashing lights at this Rock Show. Guns and Roses would not be playing. I guess I should have said Rock and Mineral Show.
Enthusiasm rose when we entered the West Arthur Community Center and saw the beautiful displays. There was enough glimmering jewelry available to keep any 13-year-old interested. The artisans presented creative blend of fanciful imagination and cold, hard rock. My son was drawn to the clear crystals made into pendants and purchased one similar to that which Vincent gave Catherine in Beauty and that Beast.
We were all captivated by the very elderly gentleman who had prepared a fascinating and informative display on fossils. He asked us if we would like to learn a little about and warned us not to suggest he’s been there during the Reformation. I glanced at his thin body, white hair, heavily-lined face, and smooth pink lashless eyelids and bit my tongue. He explained the air is involved during the formation of the plant and animal fossils. We were impressed with the discovery of a creature older than the dinosaurs hidden inside a dull looking rock.
Surreptitiously, the gentleman drew my husband aside. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of the lady and the young ones,” he stage whispered, “but do you know what this is?”
My husband bent to examine a blackened, round object the size of the cantaloupe. He could not identify it.
“It’s dinosaur dung,” exclaimed the gentleman gleefully.
I laughed and pulled both my wandering kids back. This would be better than seeing Guns and Roses any day. “Look, kids,” I said. “It’s fossilized dinosaur doo.”
The children examined it and then exchanged glances. At that moment a voice in the intercom announced that a talk on amethyst was beginning. We hurried off, forgetting about the dinosaur doo, for the moment.
On the way home, I asked everyone what they had liked best. We discussed the exhibits. Suddenly my son piped up. “I don’t believe that man about the fossils, though,” he said.
“I think a dinosaur boob would be a lot bigger than that round black thing he showed us!”
A discussion of mammary glands and dinosaur food followed. My son laughed when he realized what the deposit really was. I asked my husband about his strange smile.
“I was just imagining if a dinosaur boob really existed.”
Click on the book covers for more information.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how many young people (teens and twenties) elect to do nothing in the absence of finding a “fulfilling” or “exciting” job (with good pay, holidays and benefits to boot). Personally, I’m of the belief that this almost never happens. I think we MAKE our jobs fulfilling or exciting, just like we make our lives.
I believe only boring people are bored. A creative person can find something interesting to do with a stick and a rock. A boring person can whine in a room full of toys and entertainment systems.
I think the two are related.
Stimulation rarely comes from outside. Sure, the first time you see fireworks as a child or ride a wild rollercoaster, your are pulled outside yourself. But, the rest of our lives, we need to nurture our interests. We need to investigate, experience,study, ponder, and interact with what is around us.
We need to INVEST in the experience in order to feel anything. Eventually, with time and successful encounters, our interest, attachment, and enjoyment increases. It does not fall into our lap like Newton’s apple. We grow it like the little red hen’s wheat.
So why do so many young people have difficulty doing this? It may be because we have raised them to be passive intakers. They take ballet lessons instead of inventing a dance with a broom and a record. They belong to competive teams (I am really amazed that timy little football uniforms exist) instead of organizing a game of kick the can with friends. They play on safe plastic structures in supervised and restricted ways instead of hammering together boards and an old tire. The play with gaming systems, often against people they can’t even see, instead of playing hopscotch in the driveway with the neighbour. They put batteries in their dolls who move and talk whether the child is in the room or not. Many children go to daycare, to school, and then to lessons/clubs/teams and then watch tv and go to bed.
None of these things in and of themselves are bad. They do, however, have a cumulative effect.
I wonder if living such controlled lives has disempowered our children. Are they shocked and disappointed upon reaching adulthood to find that the perfect job does not arrive shrinkwrapped and tailor made?
Just a thought.
(September 30, 2010)