Here’s one way to spice up a chilly, post-holiday evening in January that might otherwise be a bit melancholy: BUTTERBEER. It’s all part of this complete Gryffindor Evening that you, too, can have for just one monthly instalment of candles and squashy pillows. Let your Harry Potter geek flag fly.
I’m not trying to make you jealous. I did not realize how epic our Gryffindor Evening was going to be this year until it was already in progress. Last year, Auntie Beth and our friend Matt came over one night, and I made soup and biscuits, and we built a fire in our fireplace in case someone needed to call on us using Floo powder, we pillowed up the place like a Gryffindor common room, and Beth made some hardcore Butterbeer (and I think there may have been some excellent Muggle beer as well). That was pretty great.
But THIS year, Beth and Matt took things to a whole new level. I made soup – it was taco soup, which was fun because of all the toppings, but not at all topical. (Harry and the gang literally NEVER eat taco soup for some reason. Whatever, it’s delicious, we’ll call it a substitute for steak-and-kidney pie.) Little did I know Beth was going to bring draperies to festoon the living room – she actually hung golden curtains from the rods – not to mention custom lighting… And this all in addition to the cozy blankets, requisite squashy pillows, and Butterbeer.
And Matt outdid himself as well. After dinner, wearing his “Books turn Muggles into Wizards” T-shirt, he gave the kids Hogwarts-themed word search and crossword pages, and hosted Harry Potter trivia (some of which was quite challenging!). But the most amazing part was the multicoloured potion shots (some kid-friendly, some firmly adult) that he lit on fire and made all sparkly-crackly, using the magic of overproof alcohol and powdered cinnamon. BLIMEY.
So now, it is my privilege to bring to you TWO very different recipes for Butterbeer. You’ll know which one you want to try when you read them – though I can attest that they are both scrumptious. (Unfortunately, my own Butterbeer recipe – cold version – has been lost to the vagaries of parent-brain.)
Auntie Beth’s Zesty Butterbeer:
Put a shot of caramel sauce in the bottom of a large mug. (If you want extra wow-factor, make your own caramel sauce like my wholehearted sister – see recipe below.)
Add a couple of shots’ worth of REAL ginger beer – you know, the spicy kind.
Add a shot (or two) of your favourite whiskey. (Canada makes a lot of good ones, just sayin’.)
Fill the rest of the mug with hot apple cider.
Top with real, barely-sweetened whipped cream.
If you’re going to take a picture of it, add a cinnamon stick in the hopes that it will distract from the fact that you haven’t finished clearing the table are a stickler for the gritty reality of life in photography.
Skye’s* Velvety Butterbeer:
Melt 2 teaspoons of honey and 1 tablespoon of butter together.
Add 1.5 cups of milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.
Heat in microwave or on stovetop until hot enough for you.
Mix in 1 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste), 2 teaspoons hot chocolate powder, and 1 ounce of butterscotch schnapps (or Irish cream if you want, or butterscotch syrup for the virgin version).
*It bears mentioning that Skye is a woman who knows how to host a Harry Potter-themed event. Pre-motherhood, she once hosted an all-day HP movie blitz, with her own chocolate frogs and other amazing HP snacks of which I wish I had pictures. (I think there were only 5 HP movies out at the time… A similar event would need a whole weekend at this point.)
And there you have it! Even if you aren’t technically a Gryffindor, ANYONE can enjoy a Gryffindor Evening based on delicious beverages.
P.S. In case you were wondering, though, SINCE my Pottermore fall from Hufflepuff to Slytherin (and ensuing drama), I attended a Hogwarts science event last year in which an ACTUAL SORTING HAT actually sorted me into Gryffindor. I’ve decided I’m just gonna be a quadruple-agent.
P.P.S. Oops, here’s the homemade caramel recipe (you can use cinnamon instead of almond if you prefer):
In my last post, you may remember that I have made it my mission to be calm in the mornings with my kids. I’d like to tell you proudly that I made it through the week with exemplary calm! But I didn’t. Not quite.
I think it comes down to a sleep problem – one I don’t know how to solve.
There exist those families whose kids go to bed and conk out right away. (My sister-in-law’s son actually ASKS to go to bed when he’s tired. WHAT.) Similarly, there exist those families whose kids pop out of bed super-early on their own and are ready to go.
Not our family. I know that’s a blessing in many ways. My kids don’t get grumpy or whiny at bedtime – instead, they tend to be at their most hilarious (to each other) in that post-dinner period. And they usually sleep in like champs while on vacation. Natural night owls, it seems.
The night-owl thing is tricky, though. Trust me, we do all the things. We have a consistent bedtime routine. We do settling-down activities like reading, all in the same order. We dim the lights beforehand. We use the kid-safe calming essential oils. We give the hugs and kisses and love. They just… take forever to fall asleep. Especially E. We’ve tried all kinds of bedtimes for him in the hopes that we’d find the perfect one, but he still seems to spend ages awake most of the time. His brain apparently revs high when he’s in bed. I have to remind him to close his eyes and whisper inside his head instead of out loud.
But this fact makes school mornings hard, especially now that their morning bell is fifteen minutes earlier than it was last year.
Please know I’m no morning star myself. (Hence that failed snooze-button resolution.) Once I’m out of bed, I start by opening the blinds in the kids’ room (which doesn’t help at this veil-of-darkness time of year) or putting the small lamp on. Then I’ll cue up some music or a meditation right by E’s head where it will (I hope) gently awaken him.
AB usually wakes up at this point, and betakes herself to my bed for our non-negotiable snuggle. [It has taken us a long time to get this part right. There have been countless times – and they still feel perilously probable – that she has begun the day with a sweet li’l temper tantrum because I happened to be in the bathroom when she came to my bed, or it took me too long to find E’s music, or I said the wrong word to her, or whatever other tiny random glitch she decides is insufferable that day.] She proceeds, almost always, to fall right back to sleep whilst somehow taking up almost all of my bed space.
So then there’s more waking up. E has been known in the past to wake up gently, as intended, but for the past month or so, the auditory stimulation hasn’t worked. I go in, talk to him, scratch his back, literally pick out his clothes for him and put them on his bunk so it’s easier for him… For AB I also scratch her back, kiss her cheek, carry her to the bathroom…
Ach. Written out like this, all the tender enablement is a bit nauseating. I can understand if at this point you’re like, Just rip their covers off already!! Or maybe just sneak headphones onto their ears and blast Van Halen without warning.
This kindly moderation would all be worth it if they then got up, sunny-faced, and put their clothes on with something resembling promptness. Instead, this is the part where they sit there like tiny stoned college kids: AB will open a drawer and just stare into it. E will sit there indefinitely with his shirt off and his splendid bedhead belying his torpor.
In the old days of 2017, this would be the point where I would start to get agitated and my voice would begin to sound stressed. For E, the second he detects annoyance in my voice, he feels entitled to go, “OHKAYEEEE!!” like I screamed at him. Which does nothing to lessen my annoyance, obvs. By the time we would get downstairs, I’d be fully frustrated, so when the kids would start to bicker at the breakfast bar I’d just be like “NO WE ARE NOT DOING THIS.” And when breakfast was done and the slo-mo would start all over for getting backpacks and snow gear on… Blahhh. You can imagine the tears, the stomping, etc.
The kicker is, I know that when I get mad, I escalate the kids. I’m the adult. I should be able to fix this. Reflecting on the whole situation over the holidays, I said to myself, This is why I’m part-time. I am voluntarily making less money so that I have time to do things like take my children to school. If we’re late, so what? We’re late. It’s fine. Worth it to have a calm morning.
And it TOTALLY IS. The first four mornings of last week, I would say, just once, “Okay. Well, I need you to get those clothes on if you’d like to be on time.” And if I saw our window of punctuality closing, I’d just be like, “We’ll be a little late, okay?” And if I kept calm, the kids kept calm, in almost every case. This is in spite of it being the first week back after winter break, and the kids being overall quite tired. We were late twice out of four days, but whatevs!
Honestly, the rest of my life was better for it. I was calmer with my students, so they were calmer with me, and I had more energy after school to be nice to my family. I enjoyed them all way more.
Sadly, on Friday my calm ran out. Tiredness of kids + not a great sleep on my part + not a great time fo the month for me + the voice in the back of my head saying We’ve been late twice already this week = I started to sound like my bad old self. So E started to sound like his bad old self. Suddenly AB was getting tearful about something too. How quickly it all unravels. It wasn’t disastrous… I was just thoroughly disappointed in myself. And sure enough, we were late again.
We’ve had a nice weekend. Our Friday night was Gryffindor Night, which was awesome and I’ll tell you about that later. We have also cleaned house – all of us – and played lots of Exploding Kittens as a family this weekend, which feels very apropos in terms of the kinds of tempers we have and the abruptness with which they detonate, AND is very fun as a silly game we can all play and not stress about losing.
So tomorrow morning, Paragon of Calm will make a comeback. Now with even more panache.
Off to a cold, cold start in which I have not gotten enough fresh air because I did’t want my skin to fall off… But as of Saturday night, thanks to some quality time spent with my sis and a friend and many little jars and baggies, my spice drawer is looking unusually spiffy. And milder temps started TODAY… We all got through our first day back with a minimum of trauma… So on balance, 2018 is looking good.
1. What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?
Me, Sean: Adult Adventure Week at Wilderness Tours on the Ottawa River! Not as risqué as it sounds… or maybe it is! If you consider whitewater risqué. (Two days of rafting, one day of cycling, and one day of sea kayaking… ’twas amazing. That we were still alive at the end.)
E: Saw whale poop at the Royal Ontario Museum, rode on an elephant at the African Lion Safari.
AB: Saw the longest worm in the world at the ROM, rode on a pony at the Safari.
2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions?
Me: I did not manage to stop using the snooze button. I did, however, use my massage benefits several times, and it was awesome. (It’s been several months now since my last appointment, and my neck is wondering sadly what happened.) Also, I did Bullet Journal like a BOSS (more on that later).
Sean: Yes, lost 20 pounds and still going! Lots of reading (not sure if it was MORE)… and shall be rebroadcasting the screen time resolution in 2018.
E: I did get my green belt!
A: I do go to a creative dance class!
3. What is your resolution this year?
Me: Be a paragon of calm in the mornings. Or at least some reasonable example of calm. I can do this. I know it makes a huge difference to the kids when I manage it – and this morning I did! (The kids were late to school, but… Worth It.)
Sean: Reach goal weight, live life more in the present (and less on the internet).
E: Get better marks than in Grade 2.
A: Get a horse. It can live in our yard, or maybe on the patio.
4. Did anyone important to you die?
A dear family friend and former member of our Friends’ Meeting. Also Malcolm Young, Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Adam West, Chuck Berry, Bill Paxton, and especially Gord Downie.
5. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?
Me: A family planner/calendar – and we have it! It’s going to solve everything.
Sean: Really good health.
E: More time making pizza in Roblox world.
A: A horse like Spirit!
6. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Me: Teaching at OELC Intermediate Arts twice in one season; persisting through all four rounds of my first sweat lodge; cycling 35 km in one day – and not getting off to walk ONCE.
Sean: Losing 20 pounds – and sticking to my new eating lifestyle!
E: Getting into the Black Belt Club at Tae Kwon Do.
A: Learning all of “Bonjour l’hiver” at school.
7. What was your biggest failure?
Me, Sean: You could say that we’ve finally unpacked… but we still haven’t put most of our art up on the walls.
E: I failed to go back to Tae Kwon Do this fall, because the studio is not offering classes anymore. 🙁
A: I failed to get to school with any seconds to spare, basically every day. Sometimes this was because my socks were failing to sit perfectly on my feet, or my pants were failing to come to exactly the right position at my ankles.
8. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Me (E, A): The two-month cough seems to be finally winding down, knock wood.
Sean: The Diabetus, Type 2. But it’s okay, I’m in the process of kicking its ass.
E: The usual grievous injuries about five times a day.
A: I slipped off the rock into the water at Camp and got bleeding cuts (but I was very brave).
9. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Me, Sean: Trump; extremists/racists/misogynists/mass shooters; Harvey Weinstein et al.
E: Mummy and Daddy, when they make me do chores.
A: Mummy and Daddy, when they don’t do my bidding.
10. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Me: TransCanada putting an end to the Energy East pipeline, attendees at the Women’s March in Washington.
Sean: Those who spoke up in the #metoo movement; Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.
E: Mine, when I committed my TKD Forms to muscle memory.
A: Mine, for the mornings that I woke up as Sweet Daughter (not Screechy Savage Daughter. Those mornings don’t bear writing about).
11. What did you get really excited about?
Me: My new Grade 1-6 Dance/Music teaching job! (Yes, I still do Core French. I will probably do Core French for eternity. It’s fun too.)
Sean: Rafting trip!
E: Going back to North Carolina!
A: Being a vampire for Halloween! I JUST LOVE HALLOWEEN! (Picture this last said with a plastic-fang-induced lisp, skipping along dark evening sidewalks, with fake blood dripping from a joyful smile.)
12. What events from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why:
Me, Sean: Solar eclipse, apocalyptic flooding of so many places.
E, A: The burning of the outhouse at Camp.
All: Getting to know and love Uncle Dave on his visit from up north.
13. What political issue stirred you the most?
Me: Canada 150 controversy, Rohingya refugees. National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
Sean: Alabama’s special election, Jagmeet Singh becoming the first Sikh federal party leader.
E, A: The elimination of screen time on school nights.
14. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Me: PARAGON OF CALM.
E, A: That thing I’m doing when you tell me it’s bedtime.
15. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Me: Procrastinating on going to bed.
Sean: Making excuses.
A: Putting my clothes away.
16. What do you regret?
Me: Not getting regular massages for the last decade.
Sean: All the wasted hours on the internet.
E: Every mistake I every make with a pen. Deeply, excruciatingly.
A: When I’m mean to Mummy and Daddy. But then I forget and do it again.
17. What decision are you glad you made?
Me: To accept the Music/Dance job at my school. SO. MUCH. FUN.
Sean: To go off the recommended ketogenic diet, and to read and follow The Starch Solution by John McDougall.
E: I hardly ever get to decide anything. I just wish I were a grownup so I could do whatever I wanted!!
A: Changing my mind at the last minute to be a vampire for Halloween instead of ANY OTHER THING.
18. How did you spend Christmas?
All: With people we love, all kinds of family. So very fortunate. (Sean even shared our two weeks off due to shutdown! Very exciting.)
19. What song will always remind you of 2017?
Me:Scars to Your Beautiful by Alessia Cara, Believer by Imagine Dragons, We Are Giants by Take That, The Greatest by Sia, Asa by Bry Webb.
Sean, E, A: The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota by Weird Al. (Not a new song, I know. Sean played it for the kids one time and they quickly became obsessed.)
20. What was your favorite TV program?
Me: North & South, Downton Abbey, The Blacklist, Ripper Street, The Crown.
Sean: Stranger Things, Mindhunter, The Crown.
E: I’m not really into TV. I like to race sea-doos, build block homes, and make pizzas on my screen time.
21. What was the best book you read?
Me, Sean: All The Light We Cannot See. Hands down.
E: All my series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dog Man, and Captain Underpants.
A: I loved having Beverly Cleary read to me (Ramona books and Emily’s Runaway Imagination).
22. What was your favorite film of this year?
Me: Coco. And Spiderman Homecoming a close second.
Sean: Thor Ragnarok, Spiderman Homecoming.
E: Lego Batman.
23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Me: 39, had delicious dinner made by my sisters, hung out with friends and family. And got to go on the 40th Birthday Rafting Trip even though I’m too young!
Sean: 40, stayed home from work to take care of my sick daughter. And the rafting thing (five months later)!
E: 8, had my friends over to my house, played some crazy games with my friends at the park.
A: 5, had my first party with school friends, got our faces painted, and dipped ALL THE THINGS in hummus – even the popcorn.
24. What new thing would you like to try in 2018?
Me: PARAGON OF CALM. (If I say it enough times, it will surely come true.)
Sean: Four new songs on my guitar.
E: Proper swimming lessons. (Not completely new, but haven’t had them since toddlerhood.)
A: Proper swimming lessons. We both start on Wednesday!
25. Whom did you miss?
26. Who was the best new person you met?
All: Our awesome new child care person and her family.
Me: The whole Summer iArts crew.
E, A: Uncle Dave!
27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016:
Me: Don’t underestimate the difference a seemingly small gesture (or the lack of one) can make to a person going through a rough time.
Sean: Make sure you’re well-hydrated on a long, unaccustomed bike ride. Also, don’t feel guilty if you shun social media.
E: I don’t actually have to freak out about EVERY SINGLE chore I’m asked to do. Just sometimes, to keep ’em on their toes.
A: My friend Isabelle got diabetes. She got them in Florida, where there are lots of diabetes. Also, my dad got his diabetes from eating HP sauce.*
28. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
Throw a little love till the world stops hurting… Keep on, keep on, keep on truckin’…
This is last year’s song lyric, but I think it still applies. And if you are looking back and going, YIKES, 2017, weren’t you supposed to be better than 2016? then go read this list. It helps.
*AB schooled us once at the dinner table when we were talking about diabetes. We said there was no Type 3, and she said “Yes there is! The kind you get when you’re pregnant!” *jawdrop* [Of course!!] The HP sauce thing is because Sean avoided it while on keto, due to sugar content. Those associations get made so firmly, based on so little.
Last Friday morning, I walked home from the grocery store with tears running down my face. It had promised to be a very ordinary day: drop off the kids at school, pick up a few things from the supermarket, get some laundry done and some emails answered before teaching at noon. I’d be thinking about what needed to be prepared for a busy weekend, what Christmas shopping is left, what assessments I need to cover with my students before winter break.
Instead, I got out my wallet to pay at the checkout, and heard the man standing there say, “I’ll take it.” He was short, with glasses, a navy blue jacket, salt-and-pepper hair, and a big smile. He said, “Merry Christmas.” The cashier twinkled at me – this person had just paid the bill for at least one person ahead of me too, including the $120 coat in the cart. (I had caught the end of that conversation but not understood what it was about.)
I admit to having been stunned at that moment. Immediately my eyes filled with tears. Not because I am in need of this generosity; just because it was beautiful. It did not enter my mind to refuse, even as I was wishing the gift had landed on someone for whom it would make a bigger financial difference. I did not wonder at the motivation – this man was obviously just getting a great kick out of nonchalant supermarket generosity at 9 a.m. on a Friday. I waited until he had paid, then I shook his hand and wished him a Merry Christmas, meeting his eyes so he could see that I’d been moved.
My eyes are getting teary all over again as I write this. I can’t even fully explain why.
I know that generosity is all around me. As an elementary school teacher in a very supportive community, I see generosity in big and little ways all the time, from kids and parents and staff. The same is true at my children’s school. These are “have” communities, good at sharing.
I am lucky to live in a place where, as another example, one lovely (artist and blogger) friend of mine was able to rally a large group of women to give their time and money, creating enormous holiday baskets, full of items both crucial and fun, for our local women’s shelter.
Maybe my reaction comes from the fact that self-gratification, overconsumption, and narcissism are writ so large in the world right now. They wear us down, both individually and as a species. Sometimes, a person just needs to be thoroughly surprised by another human’s ability to defy social norms in the name of giving. I can tell you, I appreciated that shock.
Now, I get to benefit twice. My plan is to pay forward this gesture in my own ways, thus also enjoying surprising some folks with something nice, whether they need it or not… But also, it’s my good fortune to keep that moment I’ll never forget, a reason to weep happily over twenty-seven dollars and change.
For Christmas, I wish for you to witness a kindness that puts tears in your eyes.
We took the kids to see Coco on the weekend – just as much for us as for them. Here are some notes (avoiding spoilers, don’t worry).
We all loved it. Even with the high expectations I always have going into Disney/Pixar movies these days, they still impress. They are consistently worthy of the big screen, too.
It’s not scary, in case you’re wondering about taking your kids. There’s the one moment when you’re like “Yikes! Lots of skulls!” and then everyone quickly gets used to the dead folks and it’s all cool.
I had somehow managed not to know anything about this movie until a week or so ago, when I heard Anthony Gonzalez (who plays the 12-year-old protagonist, Miguel) in a CBC interview on Q. He’s (recently turned) thirteen, and just seems like the most earnest little cutie you’d like to hear on the radio. Sings like a wee Mariachi angel. (Even when crying, which is quite an accomplishment.) Aware of his talent but not obnoxiously so – and full of gratitude for the success he’s had. He began the audition process when he was nine years old, so he’s obviously learned something about patience and determination, too.
Coco was released first in Mexico, and in time for Día de los Muertos. Appropriately.
The movie is voiced by an all-Latino cast, and they do their own singing. Did you know that Benjamin Bratt can sing? I did not (I actually didn’t even know he was Latino, having not seen him in much), but was happy to find out.
Imagery, imagery, oh-so-fantastic imagery. I have always loved the way Disney and Pixar go ALL IN with the beautiful details of cultural artistry. Land of the Dead? WOW. Obviously a ton of thought put into the visual feel of… everything.
I adore listening to even the little snippets of Spanish in this movie. Makes me wish I had someone to practice my Spanish with. And I was thrilled to realize that the soundtrack (as streamed on Apple Music, anyway) has all the songs as sung in the English version, followed by ALL the Spanish versions!! YAY!
The singers in the Spanish soundtrack for Coco are different, except for Gael García Bernal (who plays Héctor). This version’s Miguel is played by Luís Ángel Gómez Jaramillo. His voice is just as sweet (and stunningly similar) – and he also happens to be adorable.
On that note (ha), the music is great. Exhilarating, actually. (Tons of thought and research put into this too.) As a person who deliberately finds Latin music to listen to when I need some musical/mental sunshine therapy, I relished every song. The kids loved them too and have been singing them at home. A child’s off-key-yet-earnest warbling of “Our love for each other will live on forever!!” is rather charming. (See below for AB’s renditions.)
The big song, “Remember Me”, was written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez – who also wrote “Let it Go” and other faves from Frozen. So you can imagine. (Other songs are by Germaine Franco and Adrian Molina and are wonderful also.)
The one song that is sung only in Spanish is “La Llorona” (“The Weeping Woman”), a Mexican folk song about “the ghost of a woman who lost her children and now cries while looking for them in the river, often causing misfortune to those who are near or hear her” (according to Wikipedia). This song is like Cohen’s Hallelujah – it has one jillion verses so anyone singing it has to just pick a few.
As usual with Disney/Pixar, I cried watching this movie. A couple of times. You’ll know which moments if you see the movie. I sit there thinking Seriously, Pixar?? YOU ARE DELIBERATELY DOING THIS TO MAKE ME CRY. LOOK AT THOSE TINY HANDS. But I still love it. Being moved to tears is something a soul needs every so often. And Pixar is great at grabbing themes that speak to so many of us: loss of loved ones, sorrow of parting, difficulties of aging, passion for art, and the highs and lows of being part of a family.
I really appreciate the apparent facility of this movie in talking about death. Whatever one may personally believe about the afterlife and whatnot, it makes total sense to me for death to be seen as the part of life that it is. Not something to shield the kids from. Not something to fear, although we take the sadness into account and share it. It’s just the way things are.
I’ve never celebrated el Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, November 1st), but I wish we did. (Maybe we could? I do know some gringos who do…) What a great concept, setting aside a day to think about our loved ones who have died, and to feel the connection that is still there – simply through love and memories.
I don’t know whether this movie includes any deliberate in-your-face defiance in terms of Mexico and its people/language/music/beauty/cultural significance, etc. versus those particular “pro-wall” Americans… but I sure felt it. As the movie ends (with the song “Proud Corazón”, a statement in itself), it’s all “Annnnnd Mexican awesomeness FTW.” *mic drop* (Or possibly *guitar drop*.)
If it sounds like I’m gushing about Coco, so be it. It’s my prerogative to be childishly exuberant and uncritical on my own blog every once in a while, right?
P.S. Just for interest, in case you don’t already know, I wanted to mention the big watery underground hole with the natural skylight that Miguel ends up in at one point in the movie; it’s called a cenote. It’s a natural sinkhole that forms when limestone bedrock collapses underground. I gave Sean a nudge when we saw it – we got to go into one in Mexico once. They’re tourist attractions, as you can see by the photo below. (Surrounded by tiny children who will eagerly sell you picture postcards of them.)
You know how everything old is new again? How marketers realized that all the kids of the 80s are having their own kids and will pay good money for things that make them go Aw man, I used to have one of those!!
Well, I didn’t, as it happens, have any of these particular items, although I wished I did. (And I think they’re from much earlier than the 80s, given the age of some of the Archie comics we had at home that contained this very ad.)
AB was given a Sea Monkey aquarium, along with a little sachet of eggs, some water purifier, and some powdery sea monkey food, for her birthday. It was just like this one, except blue. (Notice that the sea monkey family portrait has not changed.)
Both kids were pretty excited. We followed all the instructions to the letter, and sure enough, a few days after we’d put the eggs in, there were super-tiny creatures propelling themselves around the aquarium! So cute! They did not have head-crown-thingies that we could discern, and they were nowhere near as nonchalant as the ones in the ad, but still… Cool stuff!!
The big problem was that the instructions don’t go past the first feeding. You’re supposed to wait five days after you put the eggs in there before you feed them, and the instructions make it clear that if you overfeed them THEY WILL SUFFOCATE. But does that mean you feed them every five days subsequently? Or does the schedule change? I turned to the internet for advice, and determined that we should wait at least a few days between feedings. We did our best.
I don’t know what went wrong. Within a week or so, there were only a couple of moving sea monkeys we could find… and then, only one. And then… a still, still tank. There were pathetic moments like when the kids stirred them (like you’re supposed to) and said, “Look, they’re moving around!” or when there was absolutely no movement and she figured, “Let’s just feed them anyway in case they’re only sleeping.”
We were sad that they were dead. Eventually, AB reached the Acceptance stage. This is what she wrote, in tribute.
[That’s pronounced “Sea Monkey-zuh” like when you REALLY want someone to know that it’s plural.]
It was right around Halloween, hence the gravestone savvy. (Actually, there was a rough draft of this picture that had “RCR” on the gravestone – she couldn’t remember what it was supposed to say, and that was her best guess.)
This reads (in the intended order): “To Sea Monkeys. I love you. You died and I did a surprise.”
This picture itself is the “spris”. Surely the sea monkeys are somewhere in the heavenly ether, smiling at their happy likeness.
On a lighter note, you can see that AB has finally reached that stage where she wants to write stuff and isn’t afraid to spell words any which way. Which is AWESOME; I adore this stage. It’s like seeing them learn to talk all over again.
P.S.: I meant to add this to the birthday post, but it segues nicely from sea monkeys. Ever since last spring, AB has been obsessed with the monkey bars. We are lucky at the school because they have lots of bars to climb on at different heights – the kind of structures that have been removed from most playgrounds for some reason. AB does all kinds of tricks on a set of parallel bars and I can just see her little muscles working hard.
And when she crosses the ladder-style monkey bars, which she finally learned to do near the end of JK, her determination is palpable. Her eyes get all steely with focus. And her hands, which are still sweet li’l five-year-old hands with dimply knuckles, have gotten all callused on the palms, as if she were moonlighting as a construction worker. It’s pretty awesome altogether.
Hi, bébé. I still call you that, now that you’re a five-year-old, even though you’re practically a teenager in many ways. As all mamas know: once your baby, always your baby. Happy belated birthday post!
You turned five… two-and-a-half weeks ago already. We’ve had five separate celebrations – two were on your birthday itself, and one was even on Fall Fair day. So it’s been pretty exciting! We gave you your first Lego set that’s all yours (though you’ve generously let your brother play too) and the other day you said, “I’m obsessed with this stuff!” Other gifts reflected the other things you’re into: animals, especially horses; art; books; and of course princesses and fairies endure.
To be honest, life with you was rather difficult right around your birthday. (Not that I was intentionally late in writing this! But circumstances conspire.) You got sick for a couple of days right after your birthday, and it took a while to get back to sleeping properly. You were quite a grumpy bear for a number of days.
With you, when I say grumpy bear, I mean screechy, kicky, yelly, and imperious, and impossible – sometimes from the instant you awaken. It’s hard to like you at those times. And super-duper hard to get you out the door in the morning.
But then, as has been true since you were an infant, you also have your easily-lovable side – the one that’s so cute it hurts. And despite certain adolescent tendencies, you’re still little in so many ways. You still insist on a snuggle every morning (which I accept if you aren’t Grumpy Self) and you still nestle your hand on my neck because that’s your favourite. You whisper “I love you, Mummy,” and I melt every time. Your wardrobe choices are usually full of clashing colours and patterns – there’s no combo you won’t wear, and with total confidence to boot. You are still innocent enough to accept and own your dazzling childhood beauty. You are still awesome at pretending. Still unfettered by inhibitions when moved to dance. Still inclined to sing – sometimes inspirational ballads you make up, sometimes the same misheard lyric over and over, and sometimes words we don’t recognize at all. You still believe in all the things a little kid should.
This past summer, you learned to ride your two-wheeler without training wheels. With the practice on your balance bike, combined with watching your brother magically learn a year earlier, and of course your natural mettle, you just did it. You and your bike looked so tiny, yet there you were, pedalling away. We are so proud.
When I try to picture your future self, I feel sure you’ll be a strong, opinionated woman who speaks her mind. You are already perfecting the eloquent, self-righteous shout-rant that’s very convincing during an argument even though it’s usually baloney: “Well, YOU should have known that I need TIME to put my CLOTHES on!!!” I doubt that many of your peers would try to best you in a verbal wrangle.
You also have compassion that runs deep. (Just this morning, you cried real tears over a story I told about having my favourite brand-new jacket stolen during a high school band trip. Golly, I’d never have told it if I’d known it would make you truly sad.) Your daddy and I are learning not to talk within your earshot about the news that’s so awful all the time – aftermath of superstorms, racial violence, sexual predators, the threat of nuclear war, and so on – because you are listening, and your heart already breaks. You do not need to be beaten down by these things before you get a chance to use your strength and spirit for good – and for yourself too.
Sometimes I wonder whether you’ll be able to shoulder the burden of your sympathy – especially along with the fierceness that will probably compel you to act on it. It can be rough being a passionate person who hurts for others, and who feels injustice keenly. It can also be rough being a strong girl or woman who knows her worth and finds it contrary to what the world reflects. I’ve recently been realizing that I don’t have the confidence I wish I had that life is getting better for women and girls.
So here’s my plan. I will teach you everything I know about valuing yourself, asserting yourself, defending yourself, knowing yourself, taking care of yourself, and being your best self. In the meantime, I will value you, be assertive for and with you, defend you, know you as best I can, take care of you, and see your best self as clearly as my Mama-eyes can see.
I already know you love yourself. One of your regular sayings (during happy moods) is, “I love you, and I love Daddy, and I love my brother, and I love myself, and I love everyone in the whole world even if I don’t know them!” Your all-encompassing love is precious, real, powerful. We promise we will also wrap you all-over-really-tight in layers and layers of love, to make that feeling last as long as possible.