December 11, 2014

(knock knock knock) penny : a tale of giving

I've always wanted my girls to want to give. They are very fortunate to be growing up in a world where they do not want for anything. They're well taken care of, sleep in cozy beds, always have food on the table, and have more toys than they know what to do with. They (and we) are very fortunate.

As someone who has always found different ways to volunteer, and then spent the first 10 years of my career working in fundraising, I place an emphasis on giving back wherever possible. Volunteering time, donating money, or putting together Christmas presents for families who need them. We find ways to give, and I like to think we're still instilling this sort of philanthropic thinking into our kids.

So last week when Lady M came home telling us about a family they're supporting at school, I was thrilled. The holidays are certainly a time when there are many kids in need, and who would likely think that my house was a toy store, it's nice to find ways to help them to have a Merry Christmas as well.

Each of the children in Lady M's class were asked to bring in a loonie to support the family, but my little girl had something bigger in mind. "Mum, I'd like to count the money in my flower bank and give it to the family...well, maybe half of it". My heart swelled with pride - my little girl, without prompting, would like to share the money she has collected in the last couple of years with someone who needs it much more than her. Loonies from my mum and dad, pocket change from Cal and I, and whatever coins she wrangled up from the couch and the car. She's carefully nestled it all away in her flower bank (given to her by Auntie Ainslie when she was her flower girl in 2011) just waiting for the right moment to spend it.

For a while this year she kept telling me that she wanted to buy herself a pandora charm bracelet - a bit of a hefty purchase for a girl of her age, but I figured it's her money, she can do with it what she pleases. However, I'm glad to see that her kind little heart would rather spend it this way, sharing it with someone in need.

So the other night we all gathered at the kitchen table to sort the coins. Bowls for each different coin, Lady A digging out the copper-coloured pennies, Cal, Lady M and I sorting the silver goods. With a little bit of work and some lovely Dollarama coin wrappers, suddenly my little girl had wrapped a good chunk of money, and still has more to go.

The next morning she was quite eager to take her donation into school, and proudly tucked 5 rolls of nickels into her backpack for a total donation of $25. Her teacher apparently commented that she didn't need to give that much, but for Lady M it wasn't about needing to; it was about wanting to. She proudly handed her lovingly wrapped coin rolls over.

That night she came home and let us know that the school will be selling tattoos for $1 each to raise money for the families they're supporting. Lady M told me that she really wanted to get a tattoo, but qualified it further by saying "I don't want to get a tattoo because I can; I want to get a tattoo because the money I give goes to the family". 

$25 is not a huge sum of money in fundraising terms, but coming from the piggy bank of a 6-year old girl, it means the world. Knowing that my daughter decided to do this all on her own makes me so proud. What an awesome kid I have.

November 20, 2014

snapshots of 2014...the year in pictures

Here in Southern Ontario we've experienced our first snow storm of the year, which means that 2014 must be drawing to a close. Judging from my obnoxiously long commute last night (a typically 30-minute round trip to pick up the girls took more than an 1 1/2 hours), the winter is undoubtedly upon us.

Though I never post on my blog as much as I intend to, I find myself taking pictures year round with stories in mind. As you've likely noticed, my kids faces never appear on here (or in any other online spot), so my phones are always filled with pictures of the backs of them! I have lots of pictures of their sweet faces too...but they're just not for internet consumption. :)

However, as I scrolled through my photos, I thought I'd share a pictorial retrospective to let you in on the little happenings that I never ended up sharing in full this year.

Here is a snapshot of 2014...with a little commentary along the way:

Braving the cold out on family walks...

Celebrating Father's Day with my Dad and Cal - the girls were practicing their golf swing. And if memory serves, Lady M crushed me. Future LPGA'er?

 Waterfall walks and bike rides...

First independent swimming lessons and fresh haircuts...

I experienced my first week away from my girls in their lifetime. I've never been terribly good at leaving them, but thankfully Calvin is an awesome daddy, and I got to head to Lake Tahoe, California for an incredible conference with some colleagues. And the hugs when I arrived back at the Toronto airport were priceless...

 No summer is complete without a packed truck, and a trip to camp. (My little dancer is getting her camp-rope bracelet put on by my friend Trishy, and one of our awesome counsellors).

Lady A experienced her first pedicure on our mother/daughter trip to the spa. Lady M is a seasoned pro, and declared this past weekend "Mummy, I really need another pedicure". Ahhh yes, an absolute 'need' for any 6-year-old. But, let's be honest, I'll take her to get some cute Christmas toes in a few weeks. :)

Lady A's colourful tootsies
Lady M's flowery piggies
Mummy/Daughter spa date!

Lady M started Grade 1 with her snazzy new Hello Kitty backpack, which was really just a 'filler' until we could locate a Frozen backpack (which were sold out EVERYWHERE!). Hello Kitty now belongs to Lady A, because I ended up locating a coveted Elsa & Anna bag shortly into the school year. The first picture is at home, before school...the second is of her holding her teacher's gladiolus - Lady M was quite nervous about starting at her new school, but when her teacher allowed her to come to the front of the line and hold her flowers, she was good to go!

We celebrated my mister's 36th birthday in September with his favourite - carrot cake! 

Having built up a little courage to go away for a week thanks to my time in Tahoe, I took another week away to head to Florida with my mum. We were there to celebrate the wedding of my cousin Casey, and his beautiful bride Alex. Wedding, family visits, outlet shopping, sunshine and sleeping in - a wonderful week away!

Halloween this year gave us one Queen Elsa and one squishy little monkey. Cuteness abounded!
Lady M's homemade Elsa wig!

And with our first snowfall this week, we are into the thick of it again...

So, there's a little glimpse into our year - it's been a great one!

November 14, 2014

three (and a half)

Lady A is now officially 3 and a half. If I had to select one word to describe this age for her, I would choose "big". 

Big is not the word I would have chosen for Lady M, but our younger daughter has never been one to blaze the same trail that her big sister has followed. Nope, this little lady is fiercely committed to her individuality. (This makes me very happy, of course)

However, the word 'big' brings different experiences...

Big laughs...Big stories...Big kindness, and Big reactions. 

Lady A is one of the funniest kids I've ever met. She recounts detailed stories that draw an even bigger laugh. Friday night at dinner the facial expressions that accompanied her supper time stories were amazing; she has so much character and expression packed into her wide brown eyes and chubby cheeks, and the way she expresses the tales of her day is priceless. 

But with this big character comes big reactions that are not always of the priceless variety. Lately she really likes to pitch her larger 3.5 year old fits in the morning when we are all trying to get ready. When I'm trying to make it to the office for 8am, and take her to daycare en route, a hissy fit is the last thing on my anticipated agenda. However, these big reactions seem to surface just then! Throwing herself on the floor because she doesn't want to get dressed/doesn't like the outfit I chose/is sleepy but won't admit it/isn't allowed to watch a show/just wants to be a monkey, etc. tends to set our routine back a few minutes, but we manage, and are always smiling on our drive to daycare together.

Lady A is also extremely lovable and caring. Where Lady M was never terribly into her dolls (preferring to pass them over for her various dinosaur toys at the age of 3), her little sister LOVES her dolls. Friday night at dinner (like many other meals) we were joined by her favourite doll whose high chair was lovingly set up right beside our kitchen table.

After dinner she rocked her and put her into her playpen, which was then carried up to her room so she could have a good night sleep. The way she cares for her dolls - and the real people around her - is so genuinely sweet. Somehow it makes up for the big tantrums that come our way! 

3 1/2 might be an age filled with big things, but Lady A also fills our days with huge hugs, enormous smiles and incredible love. 

so i got to do 'that mum thing'…

Sometimes you have to appreciate the little things in life.

Last week, the little girl who made me a mum – Lady M – turned 6. It’s hard to believe that six short years ago, as I was growing a little person, I had absolutely no idea what life would be like as a parent. Now that I have a little girl who needs two hands to show us her age, I have had so many incredible experiences.

Lady M is a truly sweet person. She cares very deeply about others, has a silly sense of humour, is a quick learner, and is beautiful inside and out. She’s been through a lot of change this fall as she adjusted to a new school, new friends, 100% French education and a new daycare too. That’s a lot to throw at a not-quite-six-year-old, and I must say, she’s adjusted beautifully. Sure, we’re still struggling with the bedtime fears (see Scooby Doo post) but that’s just a bump in the road.

As for celebrating the little things: on her actual birthday I was able to leave the office early and pick her up from school. Now, to many of you this may seem like a mundane, every day activity. For me, this was beyond exciting. I never get to pick her up from school (not until after work, when she’s been in the after-school program for almost 2 hours), so this was a rare treat for me – and for her. We talked about it for more than a week, as we counted down the days to her birthday, and the day mummy would be there after school.

Up until a year ago, Lady M and Lady A used to go to a different daycare that was down a country road. I recall, as I was phasing the girls into that daycare (and was finishing up maternity leave) I would drive down the country road at the same time as the local school bus each day. I vividly remember seeing all of the mums (and the odd dad) standing at the end of their country driveways, waiting to greet their bouncing children as they got off the bus. Working mum guilt would kick in strongly each day – wishing that I could be the mum at the end of the driveway, knowing that it’s just not the way things are going to happen for us at this point in time. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy my work, and can’t really see myself staying home, but there are some things that I sure would love to be able to do.

So having the opportunity to be ‘that mum’ for a day, and join the masses of sweatpant-wearing mums who were there getting their kiddos was a great moment. I didn't know anyone there, and couldn’t join in on their parent-to-parent conversations that had clearly been going for 2 months now, but I was elated when Lady M’s happy little face, and bouncing self came bounding out of the school door and she jumped up into my arms. Clearly she was just as excited for the change in routine as I was, and that tree-frog hug she gave me was just perfect.

It was nice to get to do that mum thing.
From there we got to go home, make icing and decorate her birthday cake in preparation for her birthday dinner that night. It’s also rare that we get to spend time together – just the two of us – so that was an added bonus on her special day.  

I suppose the novelty might wear off if I were able to pick her up every day, but maybe not. No matter what, I look forward to the next time I can be there when the bell rings…

October 6, 2014

scooby doo and the restless little lady

Most kids love movies; they get excited for them and enjoy the action, adventure and story, whatever it may be. My little Lady M, on the other hand, has always been a little bit fearful. From the time she was quite young she has steered clear of anything 'scary'. Not that we were introducing her to Chuckie as a toddler or anything, but if there was a 'bad guy' of any sort, she would ask us to turn the show or movie off right away. Of course, we always have.

But some things are out of our control...

Lady M is in grade one this year, and she is settling in beautifully. A couple of weeks ago, her entire school (it's very small) headed out on a field trip, enjoying a conservation area nearby. Returning a little bit early from their day-long excursion, a movie was put on in the gym for all kids, grades 1 through 8. Though it's a challenge to find a film that will suit kids who range in age from 5 to 13, Scooby Doo was the chosen movie, seemingly appropriate for most littles in attendance. 

As a child of the 80's, my big brother and I indulged in our fair share of Scooby Doo. I quite enjoyed Shaggy, Scrappy, Daphne and the Mystery Van, and I even married a man who does an impressive Scooby Doo impression. I can't ever recall feeling scared by their misadventures, or by the mysteries they were solving. But let me tell you, Lady M sure did. 

It's been about three weeks since the fateful school movie viewing, and in that time, Lady M has not been able to fall asleep by herself at night. She's terrified that 'bad guys' are going to climb in her window and has been in fits of tears and sobs if we try to leave her room before she falls asleep at night; what an awful way to feel as you're trying to close your eyes. She simply needs someone here with her, so Cal and I have been taking our turns ensuring she's well asleep before we leave her room. As I write this, I'm sitting at the end of her bed, on my iPad, waiting for her to drift off into a dreamland that is sweet, peaceful, and free from "bad guys". 

Truth be told, this phase has been simultaneously breaking my heart and frustrating me. Seeing my kids upset is awful. But of course, as any parent knows, the small window of adult time between the kids' bedtime and my bedtime is a sacred thing and it's being interrupted every night! 

However, I can recall a fear like this that plagued me when I was a little girl, which helps me put it all in perspective. The year that I was 7, The Little Mermaid was released in theatre. I went to see it, as many little girls did that year, and I instantly fell in love with the underwater world, laughed at Sebastian's bad attitude, giggled at Flounder's cuteness, and felt thoroughly  happy when Ariel received her human legs. What I didn't realize was the significant impact that the very beginning of the movie would have on me. If you've seen it, you may recall the boat fire scene at the outset of the story. Apparently that really stuck with me, beyond singing 'Part of Your World' and 'Under the Sea' because for months after, I couldn't fall asleep at night. 

Thanks to the movie colliding with one of the fire safety talks at school, my 7-year-old self was terrified that there would be a fire in my house, and I incessantly reviewed the fire escape plan in our home. Mainly, I needed to know how my parents planned to get my brother, myself and our two dogs, Bandit and Pirate, to safety in case a blaze broke out in the middle of the night. I can still recall needing one of my parents with me each night to fall asleep almost 25 years after the experience. 

Lady M and I are similar, I suppose, in the way we react to things. Apparently animated features really wreak havoc on us! Having worked at a renowned Animation school for many years, I tried to explain to her tonight how all of these animated characters are simply made up out of someone's imagination, then then brought to life by a pencil or a computer, explaining that I've seen it with my own eyes! I suppose that's hard to fathom, but she seemed to soak it in a little. Maybe it will ease her worries over the coming nights...but maybe not. 

My Little Mermaid memories flood my mind when the selfish part of me wants my 'adult time'. Sitting here while my little girl falls sweetly into dreamland is worth it giving up a little extra of my 'own' time, and in the time it's taken me to write this, she has fallen into a deep, restful sleep. 

I know this phase won't last forever, but if I can make it a little easier on her - as my parents did for me - then I'm happy to do so. 

Kristin xo

September 2, 2014

grade one: the french journey begins

Today the little girl who made me a mum started first grade. 

For the last couple of days we've been dealing with some nervousness on her part as she has prepared for a bit of a change. After two years at one school, this year Lady M started at a new elementary school becuase she has begun french immersion. 100% of her studies this year will be in French which will be a big change, but I'm so excited for her to learn another language. 

Calvin was a french immersion student, studying in that stream from grade one through high school graduation. I was an immersion kid too, but I started later with it, in grade 7. I figure I'll be able to help Lady M with her homework through until about grade 6(!) while her bilingual daddy will have her covered much further along her academic journey!

After waking up this morning declaring that she wasn't going to school, I brushed the comment off with very little discussion, and she happily carried on with her morning routine. Our little 5-year-old got dressed in her new outfit, put her lunch and pencil case (yay for school supply shopping for the first time!!) in her Hello Kitty backpack, laced up her Converse and we were set. After snapping a slew of pictures on our front lawn, we set off.

The french school is about a 10-minute drive and we chatted on our way. When we arrived she was still chatty, but once we got around to the playground and reality started setting in, she began clinging a little bit more closely to my leg. 

Out on the playground, the two grade one teachers began to call attendance for their classes, and we soon learned Lady M was in the second class. All of the kids began to line up in front of their new teacher and my little girl pressed a little closer into my left leg, the nerves clearly taking over. Thankfully her teacher noticed this, and asked her if she wanted to join her right at the front of the line, and my little mini-me jumped at that opportunity. Her teacher was holding some flowers, and when she asked Lady M if she could carry them inside for her, her happiness was apparent. She marched inside the school with her new classmates, looked back and gave me a huge smile. Tears filled my eyes, of course, but all that mattered was that my baby girl was happy. 

She goes to the after school program, and when I got there to pick her up, her after-school teacher commented "it's like she's been in my program forever!" Clearly Lady M had fit right in and was having fun with the other kids, which is all a parent wants to hear. 

We decided to walk down the hall so she could show me where her classroom is. As it turns out, her teacher was still there so we got to say hello. Her teacher let me know that Lady M had a great day, telling me she was very bright, and extremely participatory. Hooray! 

My morning tears had long since dried up, but I felt a huge amount of relief seeing her so happy at the end of day one. We can definitely declare the first day of grade one, and french immersion, a great success!

Now in 365 days I have to prepare myself to send my littlest lady to her first day of kindergarten...I may as well stock up on the waterproof mascara now... 

August 23, 2014

camp chronicles: milestones

This year marked my 20th year up at my camp. I was just 13 years old when I first boarded a bus in Toronto with my friend and headed up to Northern Ontario for a week of volleyball camp. Two decades later, it's been an incredible part of my life. 

If you are a regular visitor to my blog, you've seen my posts about camp for the last couple years and you know that it's a big part of my life. But as my life as a mum and wife continues to evolve, the thing that makes me happiest is seeing how much my family has grown to genuinely love the place. 

Perhaps the person in my family who gets the 'super camper' award this year is little Lady M. From the moment we pulled off camp property last year, she has been asking to go back. For 365 days she has talked incessantly about her experiences, played songs that remind her of camp on repeat, and has made plans for her return. And let me tell you, this little 5-year-old made the best of her time there this year, hitting the following milestones in one short week: 

1. After completing just one dance session last year, this summer Lady M participated in one or two sessions every day, dancing her little heart out! One fabulous teenage boy may have helped to encourage her with the promise of some ice cream early in the week, but after that, she didn't require any bribing to continue! She chose not to show off her skills in the week-end performance, but we had told her all along she didn't have to do that. We just wanted her to have a great time, and you better believe she did! 

2. That week Lady M also participated in her first badminton tournament. Last summer she developed a love for the sport, and was happy to hone her skills a little more this year. Participating in this tournament (run by the finest tourney convenors!) kept a mile-wide smile on her face the whole time, deepening her love for the game just a little more. 2028 Olympics - here she comes!! 

3. Once again this summer we packed Lady M's bike into the truck, but this year, Calvin took the training wheels off! Equipped with her helmet and Disney Princesses elbow pads, knee pads and sweet riding gloves, she took to the grass like a champ! It was a week of freedom for this little girl, and riding a two-wheeler was the icing on the cake. 

4. Thanks to some friends who brought their boat up north for the week, Lady M was able to add "first tubing ride" to her list of milestones. [Brace yourself...shocking news alert!] I tend to be the more nervous of the Calvin/Kristin parenting team so was slightly anxious as my little girl (who cannot yet swim on her own) climbed out onto that tube. But our friends' teenage son was out there with her, and she had a blast! The boat may have been travelling at it's slowest speed in a perfectly straight line, but the smile on my little girl's face made it feel like she was travelling at top speeds! 

5. Finally, when Cal, Lady A and I were off with my leadership campers one session, Lady M was at the high ropes course with her fellow dance campers. When we were able to make our way over to her, she was standing under the course watching some of the other kids conquer the elements. We asked "are you going to try it?", thinking that her nerves had likely overcome her. She responded with "I already did!", and apparently she not only loved it, but according to her Coach and Counsellor, she flew up the telephone pole, and walked across the suspension bridge like she did it every day before school! Cal suggested that perhaps it was best that I, the nervous mum (see #4), was not there as I may have made her a little more nervous! All that matters is that she bravely scaled the high ropes course, and had a blast doing so! 

So, it was clearly a week of firsts for her. But if that doesn't help to explain my love for this place, let me  share one other quick thing: 

This year we sparked up "coaches' happy hour", a fun gathering that came from the fact that our family's cabin is on a completely different side of camp than the rest of the coaching staff. Many of them really never knew where we were located! So, my fellow coaches and I concocted a plan to help solve this problem, and each afternoon a different coach would host 'happy hour' at their cabin, providing snacks and a welcoming atmosphere where we could all gather and hang out. 

On the day that we were to host, the girls and I made our way across camp to where most coaches stay, while Cal finished preparing the trays of cheese, crackers and fruit. My little girl brought her red Jump Rope for Heart skipping rope, and invited a number of coaches to hold the rope (a la preschool field trip!) and she led them across the field to the side of camp where we reside. Here's the magic of it: only at camp would a group of 10 grown adults hold a skipping rope, led by a 5-year-old for the five minute walk to our cabin, not once letting go. The vision of this was priceless, and the kindness of the people holding the rope is a moment I won't forget. The people who become your camp family are like no other. It's an incredible group of people, who help to make the place amazing for every camper and person on camp. 

I'm very lucky to have had the chance to spend 20 years enjoying this place that I am proud to call one of my homes.