The Fieldtrip

An email appeared in my perpetually cluttered inbox: the upcoming grade one fieldtrip was in dire need of volunteers. If two parents didn’t step up to forfeit offer up six point five hours on a November Tuesday, the trip would have to be cancelled.

If I could turn back ti-ime, I would read the email, tell myself ‘hmmph, I sure hope they find somebody’ and move on with my flailing attempt at becoming a person who is prudent about how she uses the word ‘yes’.

Instead I looked at the email, and despite having chaperoned the exact same fieldtrip with the Kindergarten class this past spring and having no discernible fond memories from the experience, offered up my name.

Because, apparently, the guilt at having an unexceptional fieldtrip cancelled would be too much to bear.

The appointed snowy, frigid Tuesday arrived, and I trudged to the school in the barely light to report for duty. Young Percy ran directly to me in welcome, as though he hadn’t just seen me fifteen minutes ago. A few kids were missing as some of the buses were delayed due to the weather, including our fieldtrip bus. At the news of the unexpected delay, I surveyed my fellow volunteers for their coffee preferences, phoned the professor and begged him to do a Starbucks run for us.

If we were going to be sacrificial lambs, at least we could do so with a non-Christmas-affiliated red cup in our hands.

As ‘luck’ would have it, the bus showed up sooner than anticipated and, roughly ten minutes after placing my coffee order, we were ushered outside to get on the bus. Panic struck as I entertained the very real possibility that I’d just sent the professor on a fool’s errand. And also I would have to chaperone a fieldtrip without a little bit of hope in a cup.

We climbed on the bus and I nervously stared at my phone and craned my neck to see if my deliverer was nearby. And then the bus pulled away from the school. ‘I just pulled in behind you,’ the professor disclosed via text. My sadness was acute at the near-miss. I shared the news with a fellow volunteer-mom and would-be drink recipient. ‘Let’s ask the bus driver to stop,’ she suggested. I contemplated a very fortuitous situation in which the nearest stoplight would turn red and the professor would be right behind us in the car-van and I could jump out, grab the tray of drinks and hop back in the bus all before the light turned green.

The expression ‘when pigs fly’ popped into my mind. ‘No,’ I resisted. Because asking people to do something on my behalf is not how I roll.

But before I knew it my co-volunteer had said something to the bus driver, a fellow school mom, and the bus had pulled over to the side of the road. Stopped in its tracks. Just for me. Unfortunately, unlike my pipedream, the professor was not right behind the bus. In fact, he was about four minutes away. Which, four minutes spent standing on a sidewalk while an entire bus full of kids, chaperones and teachers are waiting on you for an unexplained errand… basically a lifetime.

And to make matters worse, there were four drinks in my tray – for the four volunteers associated with Percy’s class. But there was another class sharing the same bus. With at least four or five other adults. Not to mention the bus driver, who’d stopped the bus. I didn’t have any drinks for them.

Those who know me well – an admittedly very small number – will know that I avoid being the center of attention at all costs. Thus my level of embarassment – at having stopped a bus so that I could get a coffee, at keeping the bus waiting, at getting back on the bus without a drink for every adult involved…….was profound.

At the sight of me bearing a tray with cardboard cups, the teacher-in-charge glared and said: ‘I thought we were stopping for a child.’

Never has an americanomistowithsoy tasted quite so bitter.

As the professor helpfully pointed out last night, I will be forever known to those six or seven adults as the coffee b*tch.

The rest of the day transpired in the manner of all fieldtrips with young children: popular venue, crowded with schoolchildren from at least three schools, adhering to the timeframes on the piece of paper in my hand, escorting my group of four to the washroom twice, and five times to the lockers that held our coats and lunch kits.

All with the help of four children with varying attention spans and understandings of the phrases ‘don’t run’ and ‘stick together’. And by ‘varying understandings’ I mean somewhere been 0 and 0.5.

We raced through exhibits, ate lunch and built towers, while navigating various levels of insanity, including my own. At the start of the last ‘workshop’, the girl who’d spent most of the day vacillating between crying and not, collapsed in a heap of unhappiness. Another boy crawled under a table and refused to come out and I had to summon the teacher-in-charge, the one who’d glared at me on the bus.

Even my own child started crying when he learned that we would be getting directly on the bus back to school without stopping at the beloved indoor play area. As I made vague, hopefully unfulfilled, promises about returning to this thorn in my soul, so we could visit the bleeping play place – which is all any kid cares about – I couldn’t help but count the cost of volunteerism. And feel a twinge of bitterness towards the other sixteen parents who’d managed to delete that ‘urgent, volunteers-needed’ email.

By the time we got back on the bus, Percy and I slumped into our shared seat. Stunned. Silent. Exhausted. ‘I want to be home,’ he sighed. ‘Me too,’ I concurred. While listening to one mom lead the kids around her in a song; throwing out math problems as if she had all the energy in the world.

Sigh. Extroverts.

Back at the school, having escorted all the children back to their classroom, after separating the bus students from the pick-up students, I handed my volunteer badge to the mom who’d offered to take all our badges back to the office.

‘Throw it away,’ I begged.



We need to talk about Evan*

After a dubiously serendipitous glance at the local paper revealed a young boy would be performing a solo piano recital, I made plans to drag accompany my boy-children to said performance.

They were not as delighted by my decision as one might have thought. Or maybe they were exactly as delighted as one might have thought. It depends on the person  doing the thinking, I guess. Whatever the perspective, they were not thrilled at the thought of joining me for a spell of sitting and listening to someone play the piano. Even if that someone was a prodigy who matched them in gender and age.

My oldest pseudo-prodigy is prone to being dramatic and liberally exercises his right to free speech, garnished with whatever vocabulary he’s recently acquired in social studies class at school. Dictatorship is a current favorite. You’d be surprised how often one can use the word ‘dictatorship’ in the course of a weekend, should one so choose.

‘When you took me to that piano competition, I fell asleep from boredom,’ the Gort accused. In between Kim Jong Il references. Yes, I had made the similarly deluded decision, a couple of months prior, to drag accompany my older wunderkinder to a piano competition. I’d imagined their little faces, lit up by the glorious sounds of Mozart and Beethoven; a seminal moment, likely to become the foundation of their love of classical music.

Instead they’d eaten the bribe-candy I’d hidden in my purse and lain sideways in their seats with eyes closed, popping up occasionally to ask me ‘how much longer,’ and to confirm that I would be making good on my promise to take them to Clive Burger afterwards.

To his credit, the Hen still remembers the name of the finalist we heard first – the one who ultimately won the competition. Though he’s more inclined to recall the pre-concert moment when we were all standing outside the men’s bathroom, and one of its patrons unleashed a torrent of flatulence.

Sorry, Luca Buratto, your rendition of Mozart was not quite as impactful as the series of farts deployed in the men’s bathroom.

After a lightning-fast lunch of Costco butternut squash ravioli – which was an even greater cause of unhappiness than the concert – the boys and I piled into the car and sped towards the church where the recital would be held. My two younger geniuses, who’d failed to eat any of their lunch, complained bitterly about the tupperwares of ravioli I’d thrust at them inside the van.

‘I will just eat mine inside the concert,’ Percy tried to defer his encounter with the squash-stuffed pasta. (Which, for the record, was highly un-delicious.)

‘No,’ I shook my head vigorously. ‘We do not eat during concerts.’ (Except for paperless candy hidden in a purse.) ‘Why not,’ they demanded to know. ‘Because it’s rude. There are some places where we just don’t eat.’

I parked the car and, with four minutes to spare before the purported start-time, raced into the church with my sidekicks. An elderly woman was seated at a folding table, a paper sign bearing the word ‘TICKETS’ hanging from the table’s edge. The newspaper had not informed me about the crucial detail of whether admission would be free, or ticketed. I’d mistakenly assumed a concert performed by a ten year old would be approximately 30 minutes long. And free.

I stole a quick glance at another sign, hanging above the woman’s head, and learned that not only was the concert ticketed, but tickets cost $25 a person. (Or $20 for seniors/students.)

I looked around for the sign that promised free admission to children 11 and under. That particular sign was conspicuous in its absence, so I quickly did the math: $100 for the 4 of us, or possibly $85 if the boys were considered ‘students’. I was on board to take my boys to a recital when I thought it was free, or close to it. But I was loathe to drop a hundred bucks on an experience they were unlikely to treasure.

Luckily the woman at the table, gazing at my trio standing before her, must have sensed my hesitation for she offered me two complimentary tickets. I forked over some cash and we walked inside the sanctuary to an empty wooden pew.

I gazed at the photocopied program and learned it would be a full recital, including an intermission. Just like that, my estimated thirty minute commitment turned into an hour. Plus. Curious to learn a bit about the artist, I glanced at the voluminous biography. It was ten paragraphs long; a paragraph for every year the young man had been alive?

A short while later, a small boy wearing a black suit emerged from the side entrance and walked towards the piano. He bowed and played a Mozart Sonata I’d also played, back in the day. Though I was a lot closer to 20 than 10. Evan finished the piece and left the room; a short break to prepare for the next piece. His teacher got up and delivered a lengthy commentary about how fortunate we were to have Evan there as he’d been very ill with a virus in the preceding two weeks. She explained that the next piece on the program was one required for a competition in Montreal, one so difficult the jurors had allowed the participants to use their sheet music, rather than play from memory. But, geniuses being geniuses, Evan had decided to play it from memory. Anyway.

He returned to the stage and began playing the ‘very difficult’ contemporary piece. Percy, my green-fleece-hoodie wearing pseudo-genius, had lost interest and was scribbling a face on a blank piece of paper. I only guessed it was a face because the shape had been granted two ‘eyes’ in its upper third. The woman sitting in front of us, likely the only other patron under the age of 50, retrieved a plastic tupperware container from her purse. Drizzled some dressing over its contents. And began eating a salad.

I sensed the boys were about to gasp and point fingers. I prayed she would not drop her fork and disturb young Evan. Sometime during one of his Chopin etudes, she placed the lid back on the bowl, licked the side where a bit of dressing or food had oozed out and placed it back in her bag. Finished. Just in time for intermission.

The boys begged me to leave, but having invested actual money into the event, I felt compelled to stay. ‘We can go sit upstairs in the balcony,’ I offered a compromise. Hoping the change in vantage point would serve as sufficient distraction. Evan’s teacher returned to the podium to alert the audience that Evan had decided to add an additional piece to the Debussy portion of the program: ‘Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut she offered the French title, along with its English translation for ‘les rest of us’.

‘And, in light of recent events, he would like to dedicate this to the people of France,’ she added solemnly.

I’m probably a small, pathetic person, but it reminded me a lot of that scene in Bridesmaids where Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne have a speech-off in Thai and Spanglish.

Which is probably the best possible segue into what happened next. It wasn’t so much extreme food poisoning in haute couture, but sometime during one of Evan’s four (not three) Debussy pieces, the Hen decided he would read a church pamphlet beckoning him from inside a clear plastic brochure holder affixed to the balcony wall in front of him.

He carefully pulled out a single brochure from the thin stack. Just as the plastic receptacle, likely disgruntled with the screws holding it in place all these years, parted ways with its companions and fell to the concrete floor. Not the first time, I’m sure.

Hard plastic. Concrete floor. Acoustics. Ten year old prodigy playing piano.

Did I mention the three videographers?

If looks could kill.

As soon as Evan played the last note of his three compositions (that means he wrote the pieces himself) the boys and I jumped up and headed straight for the door. ‘What about the snacks,’ Percy and the Gort complained, having heard the invitation for concertgoers ‘to enjoy light refreshments and meet Evan.’

‘I liked his pieces!’ the Hen piped up enthusiastically, without being asked. Undoubtedly trying to detract my attention from the noise heard around the room.


* Not his real name

Truthdays with Jason

Thursday morning arrived, and it was time for my weekly coffee date with the professor. Even though we’d spent most of the previous [Remembrance] day in one another’s company, learning the ins and outs of an overly complicated boardgame called Small World, it was Thursday. So we went for coffee. Like we do.

We had the usual ‘where do you want to go, I don’t know where do you want to go’ exchange, along with our ‘should we go for a walk or is it too cold’ exchange. Even though it’s only the second week of November and winter is going to be here for 4 more months at least, and wimping out on a walk at this stage of the game would not bode well for our winter metabolisms.

Despite not having resolved either question, we climbed into the van and the professor started driving. While I considered possible coffee options and parroted a Siri-like narrative as part of my co-pilot status. ‘You could go down 17th and take Crowchild, or you could take 37th down to Glenmore, or you could cut through Mt. Royal and take 50th avenue.’

I like to give options. The professor does not like to receive options.

‘I’ll just take 17th to Crowchild,’ he stopped me short, lest I stumbled upon a fourth or fifth alternative route.

We headed down the main thoroughfare towards the highway, and I fulfilled my co-navigator obligations of pointing out the flashing arrow in the right lane, and calling my better half’s attention to the visible brake lights in front of us. Neil Young’s nasal whine served as the soundtrack, because when the professor drives, the radio is on. ‘Neil Young is like the kale of music,’ he grumbled, as one far less enamored with the leafy green vegetable than I.

It’s another one of our ‘exchanges’, Neil Young. ‘You bought his CD,’ I reminded-blamed, summoning a vague image of a greyish-pinkish paper covered disc occupying valuable real estate in my basement. Even though Marie Kondo told me I should get rid of all my compact discs. For, she reasoned, the songs ‘that spark joy’ are surely captured in a playlist somewhere. But when I’d raised the issue with the professor he’d resisted something fierce and so, the CDs sit – untouched, collecting dust – on an IKEA shelf downstairs.

Even the CDs we don’t like, apparently.

‘Yes, I’ve also bought lots of kale and then thrown it out,’ the professor managed to continue with the analogy, in addition to reminding me that I have a slight habit of purchasing vegetables because I think I should eat them, without following through on the cumbersome ‘eating’ part.

Genius move.

‘I think I just bought the CD because I feel like Neil Young is good for music. Though I don’t actually like his music,’ he continued to explain the years-old puzzle of why we own Prairie Wind. The matter remained unresolved, as the car merged onto Crowchild Trail and off, a short while later. A cover of Drake’s Hotline Bling occupied our minds – despite my not knowing either who Drake is, or the title of his ‘call me on my cellphone’ song.

‘Is this the song that Ellen played in that video,’ I sounded like the 60 year old I am training to be, my mind flashing back to Ellen Degeneres’ recent spoof of Adele’s new single Hello.

‘Yes,’ the professor spoke in the slightly superior tone of the culturally relevant. Clearly in the know about things like ‘Drake’ and ‘Hot Line Bling’. I pointed in the direction of the coffee shop’s parking lot so he would know where we were headed. And then my better half made the unorthodox move of driving diagonally across the south-west corner into the lot, rather than turning onto the side street and entering the parking lot. From the entrance.

‘What are you doing?!’ I sputtered at the insanity that just played out before me.

‘What?!’ he shrugged like a crusty octogenerian, entirely immune to the rules and conventions held by others. ‘When we leave, I’m just going to drive straight out,’ he pointed at the curb and bus stop directly in front of our parking spot. As one who intends to make the most of his remaining driving time before his license is rescinded due to cataracts or macular degeneration. Or concerned children.

Just before we climbed out of the car, the DJ announced the artist associated with this particular cover of Hot Line Bling: Kalle Mattson (pronounced ‘Kale’.) ‘He really is the kale of music,’ I remarked on our way into the hipster coffee shop.

‘Whoa, they got bigger,’ the professor took in the once miniscule space which had doubled into two miniscule spaces with a shared wall. ‘Yeah, they took over the space next door,’ I shared my only culturally relevant information. Funnily enough, despite having ‘doubled’ their seating space there wasn’t really a place for us to sit and we found ourselves parked side by side on a wooden bench at the entrance. Staring at the 8 other customers awkwardly arranged on their shared wooden benches. While our Americano and cappuccino held court……on a tree stump.


It felt more Brooklyn….than Brooklyn.

Brass fixtures? Check. Handmade wooden benches? Check. Hipster-type having a conversation slash meeting with someone on his laptop screen? Check.

The professor drained the last of his cappuccino, and placed the empty mug back on the stump. One of the baristas came by within seconds to clear it. ‘What, is there some sort of sensor?’ he marveled at the timing. ‘Of course,’ he mused, ‘they only have about 12 of these [artisanal pottery mugs] so they probably need to wash them right away.’

We stayed for as long as our un-hip backs and posteriors could handle it before heading out into the brisk, snow-covered morning for a walk.


The Family that walks together…

Despite the undeniable lack of enthusiasm from my people, I generally insist we venture out into the natural world every weekend. I don’t know what it is my children find so painful and punitive about breathing fresh air and putting one foot in front of the other for a while, but they do. Find it punitive and painful. And every weekend when I, or the slightly less-inclined professor, make the dreaded ‘announcement’, I brace myself for the litany of complaints about to rain down on my head.

‘But I hardly got any time to play,’ is the one I hear most often. It’s the complaint that annoys me much more than any of the other ones (but we went on a walk yesterday, but we’re having fun, but I haven’t gotten to do [blank] yet, but I hate walking, but my foot hurts, but my back hurts, but it’s cold outside) and immediately propels me into math teacher mode.

‘What time did you get up this morning? 8? And what time is it now? 3:30? That’s sevenandahalf hours to do exactly what you want to do.’  And then I imagine African children carrying water from wells or Asian schoolchildren spending hours each day in ‘extra’ classes outside of school. ‘No child in the world gets as much time to play as you do.’

(Which, who even knows if that’s true. I’m basically just giving my boys material to use in mocking me later in life. We’ll need something to talk about at Thanksgiving.)

After a sufficient amount of complaining has occurred we climb into the van and drive – to the soundtrack of the Grievance Trio – to wherever we’re going on the dreaded walk.

Last Saturday, we did just that, making the short drive to Edworthy Park which, despite the excellent temperatures, is looking rather skeletal these days.

It had been five short days since Justin Trudeau had been elected the new Prime Minister, and the Gort still had politics on the brain.  ‘Ten years of Stephen Harper and we have a $1.5 billion deficit,’ he recited from the back, as though practicing for an upcoming voiceover. The professor and I sputtered because it really did sound like we were inside a traveling political ad, and where does the kid hear this stuff? Undeterred by the barely suppressed laughter in the front of the van, the 11-going-on-45 year old sighed, ‘and now, if the Liberal Party is going to do everything they say they’re going to do….we’ll end up with a $10 billion deficit! Next time I’m voting NDP.’

‘You mean next time you vote in your mock election,’ I couldn’t resist.

‘You mean Mulcair?’ the professor couldn’t resist. ‘He lost! Big time.’

This is what happens when three firstborns communicate.

I steered the van into one of the many parking spots – another sign that beautiful, yellow-leaved Fall is a thing of the past: plenty of space to park. We spilled out of the 98 special onto the gravel and headed for the train tracks. Just as an enormous train arrived at the crossing. Not ones to stand around and wait for a huge train to pass, the professor veered left so we could keep walking – a logical move. Unfortunately his youngest son had decided crossing the tracks was where he wanted to go and, just like that, approximately 7.9 seconds after getting out of the car, we had our first tantrum.

Sadly, it was not a new Johnson family record.


We walked to the soundtrack of Percy’s unhappiness, the professor doing his best to fabricate a faux event or competition, so as to stop the trail of tears. The best he could do was initiate a race to do lateral jumps across a grassy median. It stayed the sadness for at least three minutes.

‘What are the things I’m good at, Mama,’ the Gort suddenly asked, seemingly out of nowhere, calling me Mama, instead of Mom which he uses 99.99% of the time. It meant he really wanted me to pay attention, give him a serious answer. Parenting is like this, I’ve come to conclude over the last 11 point 5 years. You’re basically on call twenty-four hours a day, to be summoned at anytime, with absolutely no notice and likely zero experience, to shape someone’s soul or offer words that they could potentially remember for a lifetime.

Here I thought I was just putting one foot in front of the other, hoping to get 3000 steps on my fitbit. But there, in the middle of my 540th step, I was suddenly expected to be part career counsellor, part insightful wise mentor-type.


My philosophy in these matters is to be honest. And kind. And encouraging. And hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me during Thanksgiving 2027. I did my best, pointing out the strengths I see and how I could imagine them developing as he grows older. And then, just as suddenly as the moment began, it ended, as he raced off to join his brothers in searching for beavers and crawling through Narnia-like twig forest.

I meandered on alone, decidedly less interested in searching out potential beaver homes. I heard the professor initiate another competition to advance the troops in a more timely manner: ‘let’s see who gets to mom first.’ And six seconds later I had two boys ‘tagging’ me in the back with the sort of heavy-handed slaps that caused me to lurch forward a step or three. All while chanting something like: ‘First is the worst. Second is the….Third is the golden egg….’

If pressed to sum up boy life in one word, it would be: competition.

‘It smells like dog poop and pepperoni,’ the Gort observed. And I smiled at the very specific, if unusual, olfactory combination.


We walked to the river to go throw rocks into the water – because in addition to competition, boys also like to throw things. Percy took this opportunity to announce he had to go to the bathroom rightaway, which is pretty much his modus operandus these days: refuse all logical and timely opportunities for bathroom breaks, wait until the last possible moment, then wait another five minutes and then announce in a hyperventilating sort of voice that he must find a bathroom. Immediately.

Thus the professor escorted him to the nearest facility while the Hen and the Gort and I stood by the river. ‘Didn’t the water use to come up to here?’ the Gort worried aloud, pointing at a line in the rocks. ‘Yes,’ I nodded. ‘Is this because we’re consuming too much water?”

And I muttered something about water levels and melting snow, hoping to sound semi-informed despite the fact that I’m clueless.

The brothers picked up a flat grey rock from the sea of flat grey rocks. Remarkably, it had writing on it: ‘I really don’t think I need buns of steel, I’d be happy with cinnamon buns.’ Ellen Degeneres. The humor was lost on them. As was the concept of a quote. As was Ellen’s last name, which the Gort twisted into something like Dee-Ju-near-us. Sometimes I think all that Spanish is really messing with his English.

While watching the Hen hurl rocks into the Bow River, I got a text from the professor. The first bathroom had been closed and they’d headed to the one near the parking lot and were waiting for us there.

We meandered back and the boys migrated towards the playground where Percy was sitting on the tire swing. ‘So, why don’t you tell mom that advice you learned today,’ the professor prompted his youngest son. I assumed it had something to do with waiting too long to go to the bathroom. But instead the professor relayed the chatter he’d overheard from outside the port-a-potty his son had occupied.

‘Wow, that soap is really old.’

And then, when his son emerged from the port-a-potty and showed his father the ‘really old soap’ he’d used to wash his hands?

It turned out to be a urinal cake.

The professor recoiled, while I covered my ears and walked back to the car, having expended my stand-and-wait energy at the river. Minutes later I heard the professor yell our family creed: ‘Last one to the car gets left behind!’ Because this summer I thought it would add a ‘lovely sense of occasion’ to our gas and bathroom breaks; telling the boys that whoever made it to the car last would get left behind.

They will either be scarred for life, or learn resilience – only time will tell.

Luckily I was already standing at the passenger door. The professor unlocked the car and we jumped in, with Percy joining us shortly thereafter. ‘You only need one child,’ he shrugged heartlessly when I suggested we lock the doors and drive off. But then, in a rare display of brotherly love, he unlocked his side door to let the Hen in, motioning furiously while whispering to him to jump in lest I pounced on the lock button.

Which left the Gort, last man standing, scrambling to get in the locked van. The professor tapped the gas and the van inched forward. While a man walking his dog laughed at the spectacle that is us.

Seasons Change

(Hopefully, if you have lived through the late 80s/early 90s you are now humming Expose’s oldie-not-a-goodie. If you need a refresher, it’s but a click away. Cue the saxophone.)

Have you been in a conversation recently where someone talked about the ‘season’ they’re in, referring to a particular phase of life, not the proximity of the Sun to the celestial equator*?

I’ll confess I find the term annoying, perhaps because I am easily annoyed, but also because I don’t like trendy, buzz-y words. That being said (which reminds me of a conversation the professor and I recently had with an employee at a paint store who uttered those three words approximately 20 times during the exchange) the word ‘season’ is not an unreasonable way to define a particular span of time.

(Still, I’m adding it to my list of unbearable words: goodies, season, tickle trunk. If I still had my pre-child brain, I would be able to name other words too, but for now I will need to stop at three. Possibly amending the list in the ensuing weeks and months, when the words return to me at random. Except then I won’t be able to remember why I needed them in the first place.)

Anyway. The very tenuous point I am trying to bring forth is we are finding ourselves in a different s……phase of life….with respect to les enfants. The other morning I was lying in bed, eavesdropping on the very public boy-conversations taking place in the living room. (Because my children have not yet entered the ‘season’ when they sleep in until noon.) They were talking….about the upcoming election. I mean, I remember a time – not that long ago – when they would say absurd things and I would laugh and write them down, possibly blog about them, and now they are talking about candidates and platforms and election posters. And, really?!

Granted, these conversations exist largely because the Gort is in Grade 6, and in Social Studies they had to research the various parties, and even had a mock election, and all of his knowledge has been passed down to his younger brothers as topics of conversation. ‘I voted for the Liberal party,’ he confessed in the car – after we had to break it to him that his school vote didn’t actually count – ‘but then I learned they wanted to legalize marijuana. So now I wish I hadn’t voted for them.’

Really, he’s the main culprit behind this seasons-changing-business.

He can babysit. Actual kids. He has started cooking and baking. Which is neat and unfortunate all at the same time. Neat, because here’s  a kid who’s excited to make spaghetti and tomato sauce! For his brothers! Unfortunate, because he leaves kitchens in much the same state as my pre-MarieKondo self. Which I’m sure the professor enjoys to no end, since he’s been dealing with the aftermath of my (former) messy ways for over 19 years.

It figures that just around the time I finally concluded perpetual baking is not in my sluggish metabolism’s best interest, the Gort decided he needs to bake. Often. Monkey bread. Cookies. Brownies. Sticky Toffee Pudding. More cookies.

And then there’s school. It began with a gym strip – add it to my list of weird words – which is a [possibly Canadian/Albertan] word for gym-outfit. Grade six marks the year when kids stop doing gym in their school clothes and start wearing ill-fitting, school-issued, shorts and shirts. ‘How did it go,’ I asked the Gort, after the first day he had to change for gym surrounded by a bunch of grade nine students. ‘I’m scarred for life,’ he sighed in the same voice he’d used when I asked him how the teacher-led, grade 4 puberty talk(s) had gone.

Grade six also marks the year when the gym teacher implores the boys to acquire a stick of deodorant for their gym lockers, as it turns out. Deodorant, printed in hasty-boy-scrawl, made a surprise appearance on our dry-erase shopping list one morning. It seemed like a significant, bordering on rite-of-passage moment: the day a boy puts ‘deodorant’ on the shopping list. (Where’s the baby book entry for that.) Except when I asked my 11 year old about it, he confessed it was all the gym teacher’s doing. Even so, I purchased  an $8 stick of the Superstore’s best all-natural odor defeater, free of aluminum and whatever else warrants the considerable surcharge. ‘How’s that deodorant working out for you,’ I inquired a few weeks later. ‘Well, it makes my sweat smell like lavender,’ he rolled his eyes. ‘Seriously mom, can you just buy me some, like, regular deodorant?’

This from the former toddler who we had to take to the doctor because he developed an alarming red, raised rash after I’d slathered lotion all over his dry epidermis, the same former grade 5 student whose face turned completely red after applying sunscreen at school, prompting his teacher to ask ‘are you okay? You don’t look very good.’


Come to think of it, all those reactions were caused by so-called natural products…..

‘Are we doing anything next Friday,’ he asked me a few weeks ago. ‘No…..why’ I replied hesitatingly. ‘Because Nelson and I want to go to Mac’s [convenience store] and then we’ll maybe go to the playground and hang out.’

‘Sure,’ I replied, suppressing a smile.

The coveted Friday arrived and two very blond, very pale boys walked from their school bus stop to the nearby convenience store. They purchased a large bag of chips (paid for by Nelson) and two frosters (paid for by the Gort) and walked to the playground to enjoy their ‘goodies’. Though he’d initially asked if he could stay out until 5, the Gort was home shortly after 4. Eating chips and drinking a food coloring and corn syrup laden slushie hadn’t taken quite as long as he’d expected.

His brothers are growing up too. Percy, who’s consistently balked at attending school for more than 3 hours, came home last week and marched directly to the aforementioned dry-erase board to write down the words he’d learned that day. Look and Cat he scrawled in a penmanship that appears to be slightly more considered than that of either of his brothers. ‘It’s obvious’ are the two words he uses most often, as in ‘how do you know so-and- so’s your best friend?’ ‘It’s obvious….he’s buying me an iphone.’

And the very driven Hen, who’s currently obsessed with all things baseball, recently informed me he’d had to return his most recent school-library book selection: The Book Thief. ‘It has too many curse words,’ he reportedly told his teacher. While I tried to recall the aforementioned curse words, and wondered if his older brother had ever cracked the cover. (He had not.)

People often told me, when my kids were little, ‘how fast’ it all goes. And I rolled my eyes because I hadn’t had a solid night’s sleep in five years and sometimes the minutes felt like mini-eternities. But now I know, no season lasts forever.


(*Lest you think I often speak of celestial equators, I totally googled  solstice and equinox – only because it was included in the definition of solstice. Science was never my strongsuit.)

R is for Rebound. (Please don’t let it be me.)

Dear Marie,

Konichiwa! You might have heard through the virtual grapevine that I recently read your book and decided to ‘Kondo’ my entire house. I kid, of course, about the virtual grapevine, because I suspect you’re far too busy cashing royalty cheques from your selling-like-hotcakes book to pay attention to negligible bloggers like moi. (How do you say ‘me’ in Japanese?)

Speaking of – royalty cheques – where might one store those? Or do you have some direct deposit arrangement with your publisher to avoid that ghastly paper trail and all it entails.

I have to tell you, Marie, I began the Kondo experience exactly two weeks ago today. I followed your advice and started with clothes, though I will be the first to admit I did not thank any of my purged items ‘for their service’ because, Marie, I simply do not value things all that much. I think having kids has completely stripped me of that, because one minute I was wearing a cashmere sweater and the next someone spit or puked on it and I realized, quickly, that clearance items from Target, JoeFresh and Gap would have to become my wardrobe mainstays. At least until these little gems leave for college or trade school or whatever it is they’re going to do.

And at that point, I’m going to be completely grey, likely with a bad perm, and wear elasticized waistband pants from the Karen Scott collection.

But only ones that ‘spark joy’, bien sur!

It has to be said, Marie, that my bedroom has never, in all of my adult life – scratch that, life – looked as good as it currently does. The tops of my dressers are clear of the piles of books I kept meaning to read. The drawers are filled, somewhat immaculately – not quite up to your standards, I’m sure – with folded shirts, stacked vertically so all I have to do is pull open a drawer and select the least offensive shirt.

No more rifling through a pile of folded shirts and upending the precarious arrangement because I wanted to wear the shirt all the way at the bottom. Truly, it’s genius. Every night as I get into bed, I look around the room and am astonished at how tidy it is.

But Marie, I am tired.

For two weeks now, I feel like I’ve done nothing….but tidy. (Which is not to be confused in any way with cleaning. More on that later.) Perhaps this is to be expected, as I’ve gone through every item of clothing in this house. Nearly every piece of paper. My kitchen. The bathroom. And every drawer and cupboard within my little bungalow.

I feel like I spend all of my time tidying and, if I’m not tidying, thinking about tidying. When I’m walking through the house, I am fixating on open drawers, and items not where they should be. I am sweeping up every crumb that mars my (dirty) floor – I swept five times today! I am doing load, after load, of laundry and folding everything just so. And it’s exhausting.

In your book you insist that none of your clients has ever ‘rebounded’ from the Kondo life back to the messy life. And I have to tell you, these words keep me up at night. (Or they would, if I had more energy.) Because what if I’m the one? What if I am the only person in the world who is unable to maintain the magic?

Can you even imagine how that will make me feel?

But on the flip side, I’m not sure I can sustain all this tidying for very much longer. 

First, allow me to point out – simply for factual purposes, – that you do not have any children. You are one person. Living in a shoebox apartment. With, from the sounds of it, a shoe cupboard where you store everything you own.

I share my bungalow, which is just a Canadian word for very-expensive-small-house, with three children and a husband. I also need to point out – again, simply stating facts – that every single one of the people sharing my home is of the male persuasion. I say this, not to be old-fashioned, bringing up long-standing stereotypes about men being messy and women being tidy, because of course there are incredibly messy women and extremely tidy men. But in my particular case….well, Marie, suffice it to say there are no extremely tidy men living here.

For instance today, I finally tackled my boys’ bedrooms. It was a trying experience, to say the least. I have one boy who refuses to put any of his clothes away, preferring, instead to send them to the laundry basket. Even if they’ve just been laundered. I have another boy who puts nothing in the laundry basket. He uses his dresser drawers to store dirty clothes. And I have another boy who prefers to store his clothes balled up underneath his bed, mingling with dustbunnies.

Forget tri-folding their shirts and stacking them vertically, I would just like them to put clean clothes in the dresser and dirty clothes in the laundry basket.

I spent an hour and a half on the first bedroom. I even made masking tape labels for their dresser with the words: ‘Shirts. CLEAN only!’ Then I tackled the second bedroom, inviting my youngest son, who was home sick today, to experience the magic of tidying his room. I invited him to look at his closet and remove any shirts that didn’t ‘spark joy’. He handed me approximately 20 empty hangers, not a single shirt. I invited him to slither under his bed and look for ‘forgotten’ items of clothing. He used that opportunity to wonder aloud what his fellow classmate – also home sick, whose mother coincidentally loaned me your book – was doing. ‘Probably not making beds and getting rid of stuff,’ he grumbled.

His tone of voice suggested it was not the kind of sick day he’d envisioned.

I got my utility bill in the mail today. It seemed excessively high. I was about to compare the current bill to previous months to see if our usage had increased, or if the price had. And then I remembered: I got rid of all my old utility bills. Because you told me to.

And then there’s the matter of the dirt. You see, Marie, I’ve been so busy tidying my house, racking up steps on my fitbit as I scurry around trying to, that I haven’t had any time to clean it.  The layer of dust on every surface is considerable. And let’s not talk about the haven’t-been-washed-in-weeks floors.

But as bothered as I am by the dirt, I simply can’t fathom addressing it, thereby spending even more time on my bleeping house. I have things to do, Marie. Or, at least I think I do. My computer is about to crash underneath the weight of 48,000 digital images. I need to make dinner. I’m supposed to paint three electric boxes by tomorrow, for pete’s sake.

In other words, I’m desperate for some of that magic.

Yours, from a very tidy desk,





R is for Ruthless. In the nicest possible way.

As with all milestones, achieving the dubious milestone of ‘having all one’s kids in school full-time’ has saddled me with some considerable baggage – in the form of expectations for how I will spend ‘all my free time’.

The expectations are largely self-imposed, a result of all those days I clung to the thread of hope that someday ‘all my kids would be in school full-time’ and then, when that happened,…...I would exercise, have a tidy house, and tackle all the projects that I never managed to accomplish during those seven, slightly chaotic years spent with little people.

Thus the weekend before the boys’ first day of school, I spent a large amount of time in front of a blank piece of paper, staring at it, trying to create some sort of roadmap for the six kid-free hours each school day would provide. I tried to create slots for things that had to get done, things I hoped to do and the inevitable avalanche of volunteer opportunities and meeting requests that begins as soon as the kids file into school on that first day.

Care to be classroom mom? Can you help with mulching? Free for a meeting on Wednesday? Friday? How about next Monday and next Friday? Costco run? Special lunch volunteer?

And on it goes.

Staring at my blank piece of paper with its kid-free time slots and a lengthy list of to-do’s to fit into those hours helped me understand, rather quickly, that if I wanted to emerge from this coveted year with something tangible – other than instagram pictures of latte art and a calendar full of things I don’t want to do – I would have to become someone else.

I would have to become ruthless…in managing my time.

After years of overscheduling and trying to fit it all in, of saying ‘yes’ and ‘sure’ and ‘I think I can make that work,’ without even looking at my calendar, I am learning to lean heavily on the words ‘no’ and ‘sorry, can’t make it.’ It’s a paradigm shift, to be sure – not saying yes the instant a request for help appears in my inbox, or worse, saying no. One that I hope will result in a more sane, productive person by the end of the school year.

Unfortunately, the saying no extends to things I like, too. Netflix (and the binge-watching it enables) being the first item on the chopping block, followed by the ol’ world wide web.  And the minutes that turn into hours as I fall into its rabbit hole of browsing and link-chasing. Instead, I am determined to become a person who reads every day. You know, books. Because I’m not getting any smarter reading three-sentence paragraphs about what Kate Middleton wore.

Most nights now, ruthless Nicola goes to bed around ten, grabs one of the four books on her nightstand, and reads for approximately thirty minutes before turning off the light. Having always been a person who devotes herself to one book at a time, typically finishing it within a week, it is somewhat demoralizing dividing my attention between books and making so little progress. But allow me to imagine my reading is more focused and meaningful as a result.

How else to reconcile the fact that I will be reading these books until Christmas.

One of the books on my pile – and lately the recipient of all my reading time because the copy belongs to a friend – is Mari Kondo’s bestselling ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.’

A friend mentioned the book to me about a month ago, describing it as ‘one of my top 5 life-changing books’. I saw it at Costco a few days later, but decided against buying a copy because ruthless Nicola is also on a ruthless budget. Luckily another friend loaned me her copy and I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on my tendency to hold on to things I have little use for – never used wedding gifts (from 19 years ago), receipts, art projects, emails and books I fully intend to read. Someday.

If you’re similarly inclined – to hang on to things because someone gave them to you, or because you might need them – you should definitely read this book. Though perhaps not at the same time as you’re reading Steven Pressfield’s ‘War of Art’, which is all about the inner battle and what keeps you from doing what you ought or want to do. He labels it Resistance.

Tidying Up might well be my current form of Resistance.

But there’s no denying the spark of joy I feel when looking at my insanely tidy closet and drawers.


Driving Mr. Daisy

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but at some point in recent months the professor stopped driving. His use of public transit and ongoing city-blindness* had severely impacted his ability to get around town, which severely impacted my ability to not get irritated, which resulted in him coming up with the genius idea to leave the in-town driving to me.

The end result has been undeniably peaceful and efficient, if slightly strange.

On Thursday, when it was time for our weekly coffee date, he hopped in the passenger seat and we/I drove to Caffe Beano for our typical latte-followed-by-a-walk excursion.

After some extensive research over the years, frequenting every so-called good coffee shop in the southwest quadrant of the city, I have determined there are really only two, maybe three, places where I enjoy sitting down with a coffee. Caffe Beano is one of them.

Now before you jump at the chance to book a flight to Calgary and experience this oasis of caffeine, let me save you the trouble. You probably won’t like it.

Even the professor, who typically agrees with my [very particular] preferences, is all ‘this is just like the mt cup‘ which was at one point the only coffee shop in our adopted college-hometown, Muncie. The mt cup (clever, isn’t it) was known for the bizarre artwork on its walls and sloping, uneven floors, decorated with furniture undoubtedly extricated from some grandma’s basement.

Their coffee would  not pass muster in today’s award-winning-barista culture, but they once served a cinnamon coffee cake ‘muffin’ which was as perfect as a muffin could get. I believe it was the owner’s mom’s recipe and it was a thing of [caloric] beauty. They also served cinnamon sugar bagels with cream cheese piled three inches high. Which were delicious…once you’d removed 90% of the cheese.

But this was about Caffe Beano. Three thousand kilometers to the northwest.

It’s situated on a sunny street corner, a few blocks from downtown, in between a restaurant and a cheese shop. Just outside the entrance, there are wooden benches in a semi-rectangular configuration for people who smoke (5 feet away from the door, please!) for the homeless in need of a perch or a snooze, for people with dogs, and for those beret-sporting European-types who want to bask in the sunshine-with-marginal-warmth au cafe. We once saw a group of men speak animatedly about a piece of art one of the group members had brought in the back of his pick-up truck. All to say, the clientele is eclectic and diverse and it makes for the best people watching.

Inside there is an array of seating  – small tables, vinyl banquettes and bar stools by the enormous windows. I think that’s part of why I’ve come to love the place: the enormous windows. And also because even at its busiest, I can always find somewhere to sit.

But the thing I love most about it, is the enormous cafe au lait bowls they use for lattes ‘to stay’.

I parked the car and as we walked inside, the professor turned to me and said ‘who’s paying?’ Because after someone on my Facebook timeline kept liking and sharing articles from ‘You Need a Budget’ I determined that I did, in fact, need a budget. So for a whopping three weeks now, the professor and I each get our own ‘allowance’ which, along with the driving, has been all kinds of good. Except for Thursdays when we have to figure out who is paying for coffee.

For the record: I never actually read any of the You Need a Budget articles. I thought the name kind of said it all.

‘Let’s just pay for our own coffee,’ I suggested once we determined we were each at the tail end of our respective fortunes. So the professor went first and ordered his latte and a muffin. Except when it was time to pay he realized he’d left some of his ‘fortune’ at home. ‘Ummm,’ he looked at me, and I handed him some change. I ordered my latte and a muffin and walked past the coffee bar, noticing the relatively long line of patrons ahead of us, waiting for their various beverages. Figuring it would be a good while, I made my way over to the table where the professor was sitting. With his latte-as-big-as-your-head.

‘How did you get your latte already,’ I asked, surprised, given the aforementioned line of people waiting at the counter.

‘I don’t know,’ he shrugged, ‘lucky, I guess.’ And we ate our morning glory muffins while I waited for my drink. ‘Did you take someone else’s drink?’ I finally asked, after noticing the line had not diminished in any way.

‘No, I don’t think so. Maybe? The guy just said ‘latte’ and I assumed it was mine.’

‘Even though you’d just ordered your drink? And there was a line of people waiting at the bar?’

‘I didn’t see them.’

I left the table to go wait for my drink.

‘Latte for Jason,’ the barista announced. ‘Um,’ I leaned forward, ‘I think he took someone else’s drink,’ I confessed in a hushed voice. ‘Oh, that’s cool,’ the barista replied setting the drink aside, his face suggesting he wasn’t feeling too jazzed about having made a second latte for an unhappy customer.

‘Almond milk latte,’ he announced as he set my bowl on the counter and I thanked him profusely and walked back to the table.

‘You told him, didn’t you,’ the professor eyed me suspiciously.

‘I had to, he said ‘latte for Jason.’

‘I don’t even remember anyone asking me for a name.’

‘Well, the cashier did ask me for my name, but he didn’t say it, so you’re not totally wrong.’

The professor scanned the side of his cup to see if anyone’s name had been scribbled with the dry eraser the cashier uses to convey instructions.

‘Ugh, soy latte,’ he showed me the words. ‘I thought it tasted weird.’


*a severely underreported condition in which the afflicted has no knowledge of a city’s street names, directions, or places, regardless of the amount of time they’ve lived in said city.