Where are the clowns?

It does not behoove me in any way to admit this publicly, but I have fallen victim to the show ‘Nashville‘ currently streaming on Netflix. It’s been a rough winter for me, what with January’s singleminded fixation on Friday Night Lights. And then came the Mindy Project which was easily justified because the episodes are only about 22 minutes each.

But Nashville? Yes, Connie Britton’s hair could make almost anything watchable, but a soap opera about country music is really pushing it. I could pretend I’m watching it out of nostalgia for those six months the professor and I lived in Music City when we were first married. But other than a vague memory of seeing the ‘Batman’ building and hearing about the Bluebird Cafe, there is nothing familiar about the show.

The professor, bless him, recognizes that my personal shame is sufficient and has only offered the odd raised eyebrow or head shake as criticism, while checking in occasionally to find out if the super-obvious plot is unfolding in the manner a five year old might have guessed.

Yes, yes it is.

And still I watch.

But this is actually not about how I’m wasting my time watching bad television. Connie Britton’s character, Rayna James, made a random comment an episode or three ago about living with a ‘tween, that had me nodding my head in solidarity. It wasn’t anything particularly eloquent, just the sentiment, an acknowledgment of sorts [let me choose my words very carefully] that we are living in tumultuous times.

Every once in a while, usually after I click publish – which happens with greater infrequency these days –  I will read a couple of old blog entries; howling and shaking my head at recalling long-forgotten memories of the craziness of those little-kid days. Memories I would surely be without if I hadn’t taken the time to write some of it down. (Because despite the Gort assuring me today that my brain has 2.5 million gigabytes of storage, I fear five years’ sleep deprivation eradicated all but one of those gigabytes.)

So I struggle with wanting a record of this next phase of parenting, yet I don’t feel free to write about most of it.

The early years felt a lot like a babysitting gig gone bad, in which the real parents disappeared to Hawaii and hijinks ensued as the professor and I had to figure out how to make babies stop crying and will our faces not to turn crimson at the various public humiliations. But now, it feels like we got a letter in the mail saying ‘Surprise, as it turns out, you are the parents! And, by the way, those crazy circus clowns who refused to sleep are, hopefully, going to turn into adults. So, don’t screw this up. [Too badly.]’

Suddenly this gig feels real in a way it didn’t before, and every day feels like a juggling act as you try to figure out what’s too much and what’s not enough, hoping the ball that inevitably gets dropped isn’t your child’s heart.

We were talking about the boys the other day, when the conversation landed on young Percy who, at age five and a half, is still on the clown side of the spectrum. ‘Is he your favorite child,’ I teased the professor. ‘No, he’s just my favorite age,’ he sighed. ‘Nine, is pretty good too,’ he added, by way of recollection.

But as for 7, 8, 10 and 11?


That day I agreed to participate in a political party sponsored easter egg hunt in exchange for free zoo admission. I only mention this as explanation for why my boys are sporting combed hair and wearing clean, possibly attractive, clothes. 

No comment.

Someone asked the professor last week about our house technology policy. He explained what the boys were allowed to do and how much. ‘What about revolt?’ the colleague asked, as one well acquainted with the post-device meltdown.

‘It doesn’t bother me to be called the worst dad in the world,’ he shrugged, as one who has been caught in the crossfire of an unhappy tween with a vocabulary on more than one occasion.

Indeed, the only observation I can make of our experience thus far: it’s a rollercoaster, a real ‘Jekyll and Hyde experience’, as the professor put it. One minute you are the worst mom, the worst dad, the worst!

And the next you are sitting across a breakfast table from a boy wearing his dad’s tie because he wanted to dress up for a date with his mom, discussing animals of prey, cooking, camping and making things in grandpa’s workshop. All while your pregnant server, undoubtedly imagining similar breakfast dates in her future, is unable to suppress a smile at the sweetness before her.


Buckle up lady, you’re in for a ride.


*Title inspired by Judy Collins’ song ‘Send in the Clowns.’







The Best of Youth

It’s that time of year, encore, when schools everywhere shutter their doors for ten-days-if-you-count-weekends-and-I-do in the name of ‘Spring Break‘.

Because we are the Johnsons and have made the onorthodox career decisions and lifestyle choices that we have, we find ourselves, encore, in Calgary. As opposed to those exotic locales with sand and water and greenstuff frequented by the rest of the population.

But this year, the joke is on them – suffering through amazing sunsets on beautiful beaches – because guess what, Spring Break in Calgary?

It’s awesome.

‘Sure,’ you roll your eyes, ‘sitting in your house all day, surrounded by unoccupied children, without breathtaking scenery or even an umbrella-drink to dull the pain?’

Okay, you might have a point,

But I’ll take ten days of unoccupied children and lack of scenery or umbrella drinks for $500 Alex….when it comes with a side of no snow.

That’s right. This year, when I look out my living room window, I see brown grass, an unfashionable minivan, trees without leaves and a charcoal colored ribbon of asphalt running through it. Oh, and on that ribbon of asphalt? Two young children riding bikes.

Sans training wheels.

The whole bike thing had reached an unbearable level of shame for all of us. For starters, we live in Canadaland, where most children appear to be proficient bike riders by the age of 4. Thus, on the rare occasions when we’d convince the boys to ride their four-wheeled bikes on family walks, there was a pervasive sense – real or imagined – that we were a slow-moving bullseye of un-Canadian underachievement.

And then the Hen, who is 7.5 and seems to care more about what other people think of him than either his older or younger brother, became so embarrassed by his status that he refused to get on his little bike. At all.

Fast forward to Sunday. Sunny, snow-less Sunday. For whatever reason Percy and the Hen had dragged their bikes out to our crescent. The Hen came inside for reasons I can’t recall now and I said to him ‘if you learn how to ride your bike today, I will buy you whatever you want at Starbucks.’ And then, sensing that it was time to carpe the diem, I added, ‘and tell Percy if he learns how to ride his bike today, he can get whatever he wants at Starbucks, too.’

Less than ten minutes later, when I was still lazily trying to decide if I should venture outside with my camera to document any potential milestones, I looked up and saw two kids riding on two-wheeled bikes.




The purple bike with beads given to us by a neighbor when we first moved to Calgary. Despite its girlish appearance, it has been the key to bike-riding success for both the Gort and Hen.

With this rather considerable monkey off his back, the Hen has turned into a rather enthusiastic little biker, venturing outside two or three times each day (despite less than balmy temperatures) to ride around our crescent until his hands are too cold to bear it.

This morning the Gort and I sat on the couch staring out the window, thoroughly entertained by the spectacle that is the two youngest boys riding circles around each other like clowns in a circus act. At one point the Hen rode directly, likely intentionally, into the curb and fell off his bike onto the sidewalk. He fell off ten more times after that, always looking to see if we were watching him, going so far as to take a bow after his umpteenth stunt.

In addition to bicycling, much of the boys’ break has centered around the fort occupying a large portion of our basement. Or ‘Occupy Basement’ as the professor has come to call it.

On Friday the Gort said: ‘can we build a fort and leave it up for the whole Spring Break?’ And I said ‘sure’ because if ever there is a time to build a fort and keep it around, Spring Break is probably that time.

There have been a couple of snags with Occupy Basement (and not just because it is using 95% of the bedding in our home.) Like when we had a family viewing of Groundhog Day on Friday night and I found myself sitting sideways on a chair at the edge of the room because it had been commandeered for structural purposes. Whether it was the less than ideal seating arrangement or the fact that Groundhog Day wasn’t quite as entertaining as I had remembered it, the movie night fizzled after about an hour with children declaring ‘I don’t really like this movie’ and parents quietly heading upstairs to rummage through the kitchen in search of easter candy.

There was also the matter of ‘fort-snacks’ which resulted in the disappearance of several pieces of tupperware containing large portions of cereal, and a bag of organic granny smith apples that was returned to the garbage with no more than six bites taken from each green fruit.

The fort has become a make-shift bedroom for the two older boys – young Percy determined he was not yet ready to sleep in the basement – and meeting space for deep brotherly conversation involving the words butt and poop and ineloquent use of the word Uranus.

Earlier tonight, the professor – eavesdropping on the stairs, in the dark – howled at a story about the Hen’s 7 year old classmate who, legend has it, typed something into Google search about ‘girls’ balls’ and subsequently lost classroom computer privileges for three weeks.

The professor also bore witness, courtesy of his office’s proximity to Occupy Basement, to this gem of a conversation:

‘Not that you want to marry her or anything, but what’s one girl in your class that you like?’

‘I’m not telling you.’

‘I won’t tell anyone.’

‘Yeah you won’t, because I’m not telling you.’

‘I’ll tell you if you tell me.’

‘You go first.’

‘How about we count to three and we’ll both say it at the same time……one…two…three.’


‘You didn’t say anything!’


‘That’s not even a name.’

The Gort has also shown an interest in culinary matters this break. ‘Can you teach me how to make spaghetti,’ he asked on Saturday-or-was-it-Sunday. I talked him through the steps of making the Marcella Hazan-ish sauce and the noodles and thirty minutes later we were eating lunch. Made by the 11 year old. And, courtesy of the ‘fistful’ of sugar he’d added to the sauce, his brothers gave him a very enthusiastic  ‘thumbs up’ while literally licking their plates clean.

Best Spring Break. Ever.


*Title borrowed from a somewhat riveting Italian miniseries the professor and I watched many years ago.






Truthdays with Jason

The professor and I had adopted the pseudo-habit of going out for coffee on Thursday mornings, courtesy of the fact that he had no classes to teach and all three of our boy-children were in school.

Pseudo-habit, because stuff like dentist appointments, field trips and visiting faculty have managed to eat up every Thursday since February began. That, and the irregular conundrum that is the Kindergarten schedule.

‘So do you want to get coffee tomorrow,’ the professor asked last night.  ‘You realize Percy doesn’t have school tomorrow right?’ ‘No! Why?’ ‘Parent teacher conferences,’ I offered the standard line of response.

Though I fail to grasp why that means Kindergarteners can’t go to school, when everyone else is already there.

Thus we found ourselves driving to the Calgary Farmer’s Market this morning with a pajama and snowboots-clad child in the backseat.

All I can say about the professor and I, at this point in our lives, is that we’re old. I mean, I feel pretty much the same as I’ve always felt – copious amounts of grey hair and inability to sit on a floor in hero pose without my feet and ankles sobbing for mercy, notwithstanding.

But the words that come out of our mouths? Old.

And the spectacle that is the professor driving through a parking lot? Old.

We arrived at the market right when it opened. Parking spots were in abundance. ‘Wow, I’ve never been able to park this close before,’ the professor mumbled in awe at his good fortune, as he steered the car across the lot in a particularly indirect and aimless manner reminiscent of an octogenarian taking the driver’s test hoping that he might be granted one more year on the road.

It reminded me of a time, nearly 30 years ago, when I was in the backseat of a car being driven through a parking lot by an elderly gentleman, and all I could think was ‘just park already‘ as he passed empty stall upon empty stall in search of…..just the right empty stall?

‘Just park already,’ I pleaded, not entirely under my breath, and at last the car came to a halt. When I stepped out of the car I noticed we weren’t entirely in our forward-facing spot; a few inches of our unfashionable minivan clearly lingering in the empty spot behind ours.

‘Do you want to pull up, you’re kind of in this spot,’ I pointed out.’


We entered the market and made our way to the coffee shop/stall/booth. As we waited for our lattes, the professor noted the black-outlined tattoo of red roses (with text) on the barista’s forearm. ‘I wonder if it’s hard to find clothes that go with that tattoo,’ he observed.

I considered her cap-sleeve floral print vintage-ish blouse and wondered how I might dress if my forearm was covered in red and black ink. It’s my main beef with colored tattoos: the wardrobe and hair and make-up implications.

We ambled around the quiet market in search of breakfast and then we sat down outside the kids’ play space where our surprisingly social 5 year old ran around with kids he didn’t know.

‘You realize our coffees cost more than our breakfast sandwiches,’ the professor sighed as someone who’d lived through the Great Depression. ‘I feel like an old man [adopts cranky, wobbly voice] can I just get some Folgers? Do you have anything for 90 cents?’

I shuddered at the thought of drinking ‘the best part of waking up’.

‘Are those her kids,’ the professor nodded in the direction of a fresh-faced woman with a pile of silver rings in her right ear, sitting at a table with four young kids. ‘Or is she the nanny?’ Compared to our tired selves, the woman looked to be in her mid-twenties with an infant, toddler and two boys who may or may not have been twins and were no older than 5.

‘I don’t know, those kids all look like her,’ I tried to assess the situation. And she was wearing a wedding ring.

Survey says: Mom!

‘It’s probably the way to go, having kids when you’re young.’ I thought out loud.

‘Really? Why?’

‘I don’t know,’ I guessed, as one living in fear that I will at some point be mistaken for Percy’s grandmother. ‘You’re probably more patient and have more energy.’

‘Hmmph,’ the professor replied,’ I don’t know about the patience, but definitely more energy,’ he sighed. Undoubtedly thinking, as was I, about the nightly energy-suck that is corralling the boys to bed, ensuring their teeth don’t decay, refereeing bathroom fights about somebody spitting on another’s hand while using the same sink. And doling out hugs and stories and snuggles when we’d rather put a pillow over our heads and take a mid-evening nap.

‘It would be kind of fun to have a baby in the house,’ he mused as he watched the not-nanny’s infant daughter quietly sleeping in her carseat. ‘Yeah,’ I agreed in the abstract, in the manner of someone whose words carry no implication. As in ‘yes, it would be fun to have a baby in the house even though we just talked about how we are too old and tired and are spending all our disposable income on $5 lattes.’

In the play space, I watched as a little girl, about 3 years old jumped in the air and plopped directly onto the floor. ‘Are kids made out of plastic? Can you imagine if we tried to do that?!’ I visualized my grown self voluntarily hurling my rear end onto an unpadded surface from hip height. ‘We’d probably break our tailbones! I mean, she’s maybe wearing a diaper [and obviously her legs are considerably shorter than mine] but still.’

Shortly afterwards, our attention turned to the leggings-is-not-pants conundrum that has plagued our world these last few years.

A woman walked past our table wearing black leggings with mesh cut-outs. It was the second time I’d seen this particular look at the farmer’s market.

It begs the question: whyyyyyyy?

Luckily Lululemon has answered: We designed these high-rise crops to help us move from Hatha to happy hour, no questions asked. With breathable Mesh panels that keep us cool as we bend, twist and sip, these pants have our backs even if post-practice drinks turn into impromptu dance parties.

From Hatha to happy hour? Except it was 9:30am at the farmer’s market. And I am asking questions.

Oy vey. Just pass me a pair of jewel-green poly-pants with an elastic waistband from the Janet Reno collection already.



The Piano Teacher

You wouldn’t know it, what with the confessions of extreme Netflix watching and talk of drinking terrible coffee at Sunterra, not to mention failed attempts at achieving Fitbit greatness, but I actually have a bit of a job.

It all began, several years ago, with a friend asking me to teach her daughter how to play piano. I said no. She asked again. I said I’d give it a try. And, yada yada yada, I now spend a portion of every day trying to exhort ‘the future’ to understand that middle C is alive and well and can only be one note, in a very specific location, on that set of lines and spaces on the paper in front of them.

I am. The piano teacher.

Yes. As with most jobs, particularly those that involve children, it’s a veritable goldmine of writing prompts. But alas, writing about other people’s children is akin to writing about one’s coworkers: almost always a bad idea.

But then, in October, my long-lost piano made its way to my Calgary home. And the longstanding guilt I’d felt at teaching other people’s children how to play piano, while my children didn’t even know middle C existed, was assuaged.

I started working in-house.

Which has had several personal and familial implications , the least of which being: I can now speak of it.

Very carefully.

My initial plan was to begin teaching the Gort and wait six months or a year to teach the Hen. I didn’t even give Percy’s tutelage a first thought, much less a second.

But as soon as the Gort had his first lesson, his middle, keep-up-with-the-Gortses brother, indicated he would not be left behind. And then someone asked me to teach their 5 year old and it seemed silly to teach someone else’s 5 year old, but not my own.

And, before I could yell get your foot off the pedal, all three of our cherubs were piano playing fools. I use the term ‘playing’, not to infer a modicum of competence, but rather as an aural indicator of the noise level in our home post-October 2014.

If you’re thinking to yourself ‘I should teach my three boys aged 5, 7 and 10 how to play piano!’, this is what you should know:

It’s going to drive you crazy. It’s going to drive your husband even crazier. You will find yourself saying unbelievable things like ‘stop practicing!’

Your husband will change the ‘last-call’ time for piano playing on a daily basis to suit his mood. ‘No piano playing after 6!’ he’ll yell one night. ‘No piano playing after 4:30!’ the next. Along with ‘no piano playing before 7:30 in the morning,’ or ‘no piano playing before 10!’

You will yell the phrase ‘no pedal!’ so often that the 5 year old will start using it too. ‘No pedal!’ he will tell his brothers, when the sustained, bordering-on-garbled sound makes its appearance. Because, let me tell you, if you think three people playing ‘Russian Sailor Dance’ or ‘Ode to Joy’ at various intervals throughout the day isn’t enough to push the sanest, kindest person over the edge, just add pedal.

Here’s the other thing you should know about boys and the piano. If they find a piece they like, they will play it. Only. Continuously. As fast and as loud as possible. With pedal (if you allow it).

And that’s when you’ll hear yourself yelling ‘stop practicing!’ Much to your own astonishment.

Like, maybe you’re familiar with that ditty called ‘Ode to Joy’. But have you heard it played super loud, so fast you can’t catch your breath and either two octaves higher or lower than written – depending on the player’s mood?

Ode to Horror, more like.


Noise level and pedal overuse and fixation with Russian Sailor Dance aside, it’s also been kind of awesome watching all three of them at the piano. The Gort playing with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, the Hen practicing like a madman and Percy, remarkably adept given his age and tiny fingers, counting ‘1-2′ out loud, as quickly as possible after every half note.

They may not be having much luck with beginner swimming, but beginner piano? Totally different story. It’s almost as if 50 percent of their genetic material was sourced from a pianist!

To be sure, there are pitfalls in having your mother for your teacher, and your sons as your students.

I’m overly familiar with nearly every piece they play, because I’ve heard at least six other children play it. I even know where they’re most likely to make a mistake because, little known fact, you can have six beginner students play the same piece and five of them will make identical mistakes.

‘You’re supposed to play a D,’ I might yell from the kitchen where I’m chopping onions.

‘I am playing a D,’ the Gort will insist.

‘No you’re not,’ I, the person who knows what a D sounds like, will volley back.

After which there might be one more round of arguing, or a change of note as the prodigal D suddenly makes an appearance and we continue on with our respective tasks.

They feel free to express their irritation or unhappiness with me, in a way they would not with another teacher. And I’m less inclined to be the most patient version of myself with them, having expended my patience trying to encourage and instruct eighteen other children,

The Gort had a lesson three or four weeks ago – that’s another pitfall, I’m less inclined to give them regular lessons, either because it’s not on the calendar or because, after teaching a series of lessons, I rarely have the energy to do three more when I get home – ‘wow, you didn’t even get mad at me,’ he mused at the end of his lesson.

It’s the little things.


The Lazy River is for Lovahs

As I mentioned in my previous post, we had a bit of a mini-break for the last five days. Having learned a thing or two from six previous instalments of ‘family weekend’ – mainly that five people inside one small house all day long is a bad idea – I was determined to find something for us to do on one of the days.

That day turned out to be Saturday. Valentine’s Day, oddly enough.

I polled the troops and determined we would drive to one-hour-away Canmore and pay a visit to their recreation facility, which boasts a swimming pool, climbing wall and public library. We’d leave early, spend a couple of hours in the car, a couple of hours at the Elevation Place and return in time to watch Ralph Macchio learn Pat Morita’s ways in The Karate Kid.

Day. Planned.

The boys were up early Saturday morning because I’d intimated we’d be hitting the road around 8. The professor made heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast and it was all going according to plan when I heard Percy say: ‘I don’t want any pancakes.’

It was, as they say, a red flag. A Johnson boy declining pancakes can only mean one of two things: (1) The pancakes are too healthy-tasting (i.e. with an overly obvious amount of flaxseed or almond meal or buckwheat flour) or (2) Illness.

Seeing as the professor had been the chef, I knew taste was not at issue,  which left my barely awake brain with only one plausible option.

As Percy is a child who loves nothing more than asking for a ‘barf bowl’ to keep him company at night, despite never having used one, I considered this information with a grain of salt.

But he did look pale. And refused to eat.

I felt confident that riding in a car with a barfing child would not be a considerable improvement over spending the entire day chez nous, ‘Let’s just wait a bit and see how this plays out,’ I suggested to my peeps, who were rather aggrieved by my failure to stick to ‘the plan’.

Two hours later, having concluded that Percy was not at imminent risk of tossing his cookies, we climbed in the car and drove to Canmore.

With three pairs of eyes firmly affixed to the dashboard.

‘Don’t you think we should get gas?’ ‘What do those two orange lights mean?’ ‘What time will we get to Canmore?’ ‘How much longer till we get to Canmore?’ ‘This drive is taking forever.’

Together, the three have very nearly relieved me of the ‘need’ to serve as ‘co-pilot’ when the professor drives.

At precisely 11am, we arrived at the Elevation Place, forked over some money and split up at the changing rooms. It may be one of the only perks of being the lone female in a house of boy-men: the luxury of going to the changing rooms alone. Too bad I don’t enjoy swimming or wearing a bathing suit, otherwise I’d avail myself of this opportunity more than once every two years.

As we divvied up our belongings to ensure the professor had all of the boys’ swim stuff, we discovered a tiny error in our packing strategy, namely 2 towels for 5 people.

Apparently my carefree ‘everyone pack your own stuff’ approach had backfired.

With only myself to look after, I entered the pool area before any of the boys. Once reunited, we began what felt like the world’s slowest clock-watch, as we circuited from hot tub to lazy river and back again for precisely one hour.

During one of our hot tub respites, I noticed a young, seemingly childless couple enter the lazy river. Which, to be clear, is an oval-shaped lane of water with a current that propels you forward so you don’t have to swim.

Hence the term ‘lazy river’ I suppose.

‘Why would you come here if you don’t have kids,’ I wondered aloud. The professor and I were married for a long time before we had kids and the amount of times we set foot in an indoor pool during that time? Zero. The amount of times he said ‘how about for Valentine’s Day, we go hang out in a place where children are playing and crying and not adhering to society’s implicit bathroom etiquette?’ Zero.

And then, because it was Valentine’s Day, and I tend to recall slogans and bits of SNL skits at the oddest times, I said: ‘The Lazy River is for Lovahs.’

A nod to the 80’s ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ marketing campaign and the SNL skits with Rachel Dratch eating chicken in a hot tub with Will Ferrell and talking annoyingly about ‘my lovah’.

The joke made an appearance several more times over the course of the day.

After an hour had passed (how do people stay for more than that), when the Gort declared his fingers were so pruny they felt like they could crumble, and I felt nauseated from the heat of the hot tub and lack of food, we ventured back into the changing rooms, the boys grumbling over the towel to person ratio.

The professor volunteered to take our swim stuff back to the car, so we wouldn’t have to drag three backpacks with us when we tried out the climbing wall. In his absence, the boys and I ate cheesy buns and walnut bread from a German baker who’d conveniently set up shop in the atrium for the ‘Mountain Market’.

I’ve always thought of German baking as decidedly void of salt. And sugar. And flavor. The cheesy buns and walnut bread confirmed my longstanding hypothesis.

Many minutes passed and the professor had not yet returned. ‘Dad’s been gone for a long time,’ I noted as I reached for my phone. Two text messages and a missed call, I realized with a twinge of guilt.

It could mean only one thing: trouble. In the form of a very flat tire.

After testing out the climbing wall, the professor returned to the car to change the tire while the boys and I hung out in the library reading books.

‘The Library is for Lovahs.’

It was nearly dark by the time we got home. I popped corn and the boys popped the Karate Kid DVD into the player. It was slightly surreal to consider I was likely the same age as the Gort when I saw the movie for the first time. ‘I thought Ralph Macchio was the cutest boy ever,’ I told the boys. ‘Ew, that’s gross.’

We soaked in the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi (he and Tami Taylor should have written a joint self help book) and by the time the credits rolled, the boys were practicing their crane kicks.

Shortly thereafter, Percy made good on his threat and availed himself to the barf bowl toilet. A child who tosses his cookies completely inside a receptacle is a welcome addition to any household.

A few hours later, having made public fun of a friend for watching a movie with a 31% rating on the tomatometer and complaining about how awful it was, I sat back, smugly, to watch the very acclaimed (81% on the tomatometer) Tracks.

A (now well known) Australian woman treks 1700 miles across the desert with 3 camels. She gets real dirty. She doesn’t like people. A photographer drives out to document her journey.The camels make weird braying noises. She ends up at the ocean.

As the professor put it, ‘I think I would have rather read the National Geographic article than watched this movie.’

The Desert is for Lovahs.

Sweet and Sour

It’s family weekend here in Calgary – that time, once a year, when teachers convene for two days just before ‘Family Day’, resulting in a 5 day stretch without any school to separate you from the people you love.

Maybe that’s just my take on it.

This constant state of togetherness brings out the worst in us Johnsons, heightened by my inevitable failure to plan something for us to do because I’m under the misapprehension that being together for 16 hours a day will be something akin to a scene from Little Women; a steady stream of board games and art and literature. With cookies baking in the oven and a stew bubbling on the stove.

But at our house, the scene bears closer resemblance to an episode of Roseanne, with an ongoing tally of brotherly meltdowns and perpetually rolling eyes, all washed down with a chorus of ‘this isn’t fair’ and ‘you’re the worst mother in the world.’

I think it was a year and a half ago that I mentioned we were in a sweet spot of raising kids; a time when the intensive phase of keeping babies and toddlers alive had given way to a phase with independent, interactive and mostly enjoyable children.

It was a very good phase. One that, in recent months, has been reconstituted as we find ourselves the proud owners of an almost 11 year old and a 7.5 year old.

I recall something shifted with the Gort around the time he turned 8, when he became a slightly more challenging member of our cast. In the last few weeks, I sense the same has begun to happen with the Hen. Prematurely, as luck would have it.

Take a premature ‘case of the eights’, add to that the presence of a pre-adolescent and, let’s just say, the drama quotient in our home would have anyone convinced we’re filming a documentary for E!

Whenever I meet a mom with three boys, especially one whose boys are older than mine, I grill her with questions about what it’s like and how she survived in an effort to prepare myself for the years to come. I talked to such a saint mom at a barbeque a few months ago. One whose three sons are firmly ensconced in teenagedom.

I said something like ‘what’s it like?’ And she said something like ‘it’s awful. They’re awful to each other. And they say terrible things – to their brothers, to me. Sometimes I find myself crying ‘why are you being so mean?’

Some people might not value such an honest response, but I actually do. I like to know what’s coming down the pipe (even if I may insist, smugly, to myself, that it ‘won’t happen to me’).

That way, when it turns out I’m not immune to the ordinary trials of the three-boy-life, after ‘it’ has already come down the pipe and hit me square in the face, I might remember the conversation and go ‘oh, riiiiiiight. She said this would happen.

I’ve found myself remembering  that conversation in recent weeks, when it seems like the boys wake up irritated with each other, come home irritated with each other, and go to bed irritated with each other. (It goes without saying that they also spend most of the day irritated with me.) But having said that, I’m fully aware that this, this phase we find ourselves in at the moment, is but the training ground for things to come.

Hence my latest tendency to refer to this moment in my parenting life as the ‘Sweet and Sour’ phase.

We have the aforementioned irritations. And the Oscar-worthy dramatic outbursts. But I’m still buying Lego sets. Stuffed animals still make an appearance at bed time.  I can still convince them (admittedly with a lot of complaining) to join me on errands. And the Brothers Johnsonov can still bond over episodes of Scooby Do and express collective excitement when I unexpectedly find ‘The Nut Job’ at the library. ‘We’ve seen a lot of previews for this,’ Percy exclaims, as though I’ve just struck movie gold. (Rottentomatoes gave it 10% on the tomatometer. ‘I’d give it 100%,’ the Hen disagreed. ‘Well, maybe like a 70%,’ the Gort reasoned.)

For now (for the most part), they’re still each other’s only best friends, and are content to huddle together on the couch around the ipad.


And they will still, all three, spend a bit of time at the playground.

We had another gem of a day, weather-wise, on Friday. (Calgary has really tried to woo me this winter.) Late afternoon, at the Gort’s suggestion, we walked over to the playground by the school. Jackets and boots and socks were abandoned as the boys climbed and chased to their hearts’ content. The light was so perfect I actually ran back to the house to get my camera. Convinced I’d regret it if I didn’t document this particular moment in time.

As I snapped away, I felt keenly aware that I was, in some way, capturing the end of something.




An hour (maybe even two) later we walked home.

The long way.

It was one of the best afternoons we’d had in a very long time.*


*For the sake of honesty – lest I misremember this anecdote later in my life – I need to also mention that one boy stayed behind at the playground, refusing to walk home with us. And by dinner time his behavior had escalated into something that appeared to warrant an exorcist.






And I will walk 10,000 steps. Only.

I might have given the impression in my last post that I have done nothing but stand transfixed before my ipad watching episode upon episode of Friday Night Lights.That is, more or less, accurate. Or so I gathered a few nights ago as I went to my bedroom to grab the ipad and found the professor…..had hidden it.

‘You have a problem,’ he pronounced as he watched me search for the blue-plastic-covered-rectangle.

A suspicion confirmed when I received a text from a friend that said something along the lines of: ‘do you think you can tear yourself away from Friday Night Lights long enough so we can have coffee.’

And I do have a problem. Did. Because, glory be, I [may] have finally reached the point of saturation where I find myself caring less about Tami and Coach Taylor (what is his first name, anyway) and Saracin and Riggins and the rest of the gang.

But my reason for writing all of that was actually to say I’ve not devoted every waking moment of 2015 to watching the Taylors and the Panthers in Dillon, Texas.

I’ve also been tapping a little gadget attached to my belt to see how many steps I have (or haven’t as the case may be) walked each day. Yes, for Christmas my gadget fairy (aka my mother) gave me a fitbit zip.

I spent the first week alternating between forgetting to wear it, being too lazy to wear it, and being appalled about the lack of steps on my display. To be clear, I was not surprised by the number. We live in a small house and I tend to spend most of my time at home standing in one spot – usually the kitchen. Also the bathroom scale had taken to displaying a number I normally associate with the second trimester of pregnancy. Thus it didn’t require impressive deduction skills to suspect my ‘step-number’ would make David Sedaris wither in horror.

Still, it was disheartening to have confirmation that, when left to my own devices, I only take about 3000 steps on a typical day at home. Mostly because it meant I’d have to put a fair amount of effort into producing the other 7,000 steps mr. fitbit demands, err ‘suggests’.

Hence my 2015 has unfolded in the following manner: walk boys and neighbor girl to school at 8:05am, check fitbit upon return. Pick Percy up from Kindergarten at 10:54am, check fitbit upon return. Pick the Hen up from school at 2:38pm, check fitbit upon return. Meet the Gort at the bus stop at 3:12pm, check fitbit upon return.

Thanks to the zip displaying the time – along with calories burned and kilometers walked – I have precise times for all of these forays into the outside world.

Unfortunately, these jaunts, brisk and deliberate though they may be, are not sufficient in getting me to the coveted 10,000 steps. And, to that end, I’ve had to resort to walking at night, after the boys go to bed. Or in the morning while Percy’s at school. Which really cuts into my potential coffee drinking time.

The thing of it is, I actually like walking. It might well be one of my favorite things to do. Being outside in relative peace and quiet, thinking (?!), feeling the air and (occasionally) sunlight on my face.

But with all these – clearly important – tasks vying for my time, I have a bit of a mental block when it comes to stepping outside and walking around for more than fifteen minutes, just so I can reach a certain number on my fitbit.

And it’s why I have another mental block against going beyond the suggested 10,000 number. Instead of being intrinsically motivated to keep going, to achieve some higher level of fitness, or finally beat my fitbit friends (even just for a day), once I notice I’m at 10,000 steps, I head home. Immediately. Unable to summon the motivation or desire to keep walking for more time than absolutely necessary.

This is probably what sets me apart from the Bill Gates’ and Hillary Clintons of the world; what distinguishes the slackers from the succeeders.

That’s probably not even a word. But I like the alliteration and I’m too lazy to ask Google for another. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go outside and walk approximately 15,531 steps.

Somebody came up a bit short yesterday.






It has been a while since my last post. I could say I’ve been preoccupied with a New Year and setting goals; making plans for how I’m going to be a better human being this year. But that would be a lie.

I’ve been watching Friday Night Lights.

I’m hard-pressed to remember how this latest obsession began. I believe I read on someone’s blog how Friday Night Lights had been one of her favorite shows. The same blogger who has steered me wrong on countless book recommendations, so why I thought to follow her suggestion to watch this television show, about high school football, is beyond me.

But the name stuck with me and once, possibly a few years ago now, when the professor was out of town, I found the show on Netflix [potential New Year’s Resolution #1: stay away from Netflix] and watched the first episode. It occurred to me that the show, being largely constructed around a sport and all, might be something the professor and I could watch together, so I suspended my viewing efforts.

Until a little over a week ago. With nothing to watch while we wait for House of Cards and The Americans to return, and the professor’s continuing lament that nobody shares his love of sport-watching, I suggested we watch Friday Night Lights. And that is essentially what I have been doing ever since.

Sneaking in an episode (or two) before bed. Propping the ipad against a wall while I prep food or wipe my walls clean of who-knows-what, and folding laundry, all to the soundtrack of Coach Taylor yelling ‘clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose’ and Tami Taylor offering wisdom to Dillon’s high school students like ‘there’s no weakness in forgiveness.’

The professor has retained only minimal interest in the show. ‘Call me when they’re playing football,’ he said one night as he walked back to his own laptop, because the actual playing of football comprises roughly two minutes of every episode. Which is probably why I’ve managed to become enslaved to the show. Mostly it is the unfolding of drama, the patching up of drama…..and the wisdom.

I could watch Kyle Chandler’s Coach Taylor and Connie Britton’s Tami Taylor all day. Actually, I kind of am. But, all kidding aside, watching these fictional characters invest in the lives of the youth around them, [overtly] biting their tongues in tense situations and speaking their minds when it’s called for, well it’s entertainment, self-help and inspiration all in one television show.

Now that I think of it, maybe I shouldn’t feel bad about watching this show, it’s more or less the equivalent of reading (a somewhat shallow, reduced to soundbites) book on leadership and parenting and marriage, with a lot of ‘hayel’ (that’s hell in a southern accent) and ‘ayuss’ (that’s ass) thrown in.

Also, watching Coach Taylor end most of his – usually tense – conversations with a strangely old-fashioned ‘say hello to your mother’ is equal parts genius and hilarious. As though, with just the right inflection, this statement brimming with manners could become the ultimate kiss-off.

To be fair, there are some points of contention with the show: the absent parents (two of the main characters are growing up without any parents around), the apparent lack of a legal drinking age in Texas (like, in drinking establishments that presumably have some legal obligations around not serving beer to sixteen year olds) or the fact that the Taylor’s daughter was able to get a tattoo at age 16 without parental consent. There are also 76 episodes in the series, which is going to pose a serious threat to my external obligations for the next few weeks.

But mostly the show makes me want to speak in a southern accent, dismissing anyone who annoys me with a ‘say hello to your mother.’ Hence, next time you see me, if I speak in inspiring soundbites with vaguely Texan colloquialisms, you’ll know why.