The electronic sitter’s day off.

I grew up on a farm. Well, not really. It just felt like one because it was so noisy. Not because there was a slew of kids and pets. There was just mom, dad, myself, Glenn, and an empty doghouse out back. (R.I.P. Skip). But the thin walls of our two-storey echoed the voices of Glenn Tilley, Gerald S. Doyle and Lloyd Robertson extremely well. There may have only been two people at home, but it would sound like ten. I’m pretty sure Peter Mansbridge was the narrator in my teenage dreams. Wow. That’s just creepy.

Mom and dad were loud talkers, to be heard over the blare of CBC radio (dad’s first necessity after water and air) and the television that wasn’t about to let the radio have all the glory. At 6pm, open the front door and the rest of Badger’s Quay could hear Carl Wells’ weather predictions for the weekend.

So maybe I’ve been conditioned to need noise. I’d probably veer into the ditch if the radio were not on in the car; the gas pedal doesn’t work without a light underscore of classic rock, right? I don’t watch a lot of television, but it’s almost always on. When we’re eating supper. When we’re playing trains. When we’re cooking. We come home, turn on the lights, adjust the heat, and flick on the telly – even though we don’t even plan to watch it. Why do we do that? Whyyyyyy?

Because noise is comforting. The sounds of voices and music are a familiar backdrop, filling up uncomfortable silences, a virtual safety net for sudden moments of boredom or loneliness. God forbid we try to entertain ourselves without the aid of some electronic device. (One sec, I gotta try and pass this level of Angry Birds on my iPhone.) I mean it would be preposterous to break out a board game, or build a tower with blocks, or play ring-around-the-rosy, or… wait for it… TALK! And imagine doing any of these things without the television in the background, providing some texture to the otherwise ordinary scene. Why the constant need for amusement anyways? Why can’t we just be? Yeah, try telling that to a two-year-old who would rather let a turd fester in his diaper for half a day than put down his toys to get changed.

And because I am a lazy mother. I use the television as an easy out. When I am trying to get ready in the morning, I flick on a dvd and Max is the best behaved child in the Milky Way. (No dvd and he’s sticking fridge magnets into the hair dryer and climbing into the oven, Hansel and Gretel style.) When Max won’t get out of the bathtub, I lure him from the bubbles with the promise of a movie – because I am too lazy to come up with something more creative. When he is whining for something, climbing up my leg to reach what he can’t have, I divert him to the flat-screen where he is safe and entertained and quiet, and I am not annoyed.

I suck.

So yesterday I tried something different. I called it Project Break-Free-From-TV. I gave the electronic babysitter the entire day off. (She’s a bit of a square anyways.) And it was one of the best days ever.

No movies. No Treehouse or Disney Channel. No computer. Daddy and Splash were gone in the woods for a boil-up, so it was just us. Me and Max. And our imaginations.

First, we broke out the paper and crayons. He whined for a red ballpoint pen that was lying so irresistibly on the kitchen table. I gave in. He drew a tornado and a ball of red yarn. Stellar work.

Next, we read. He ripped the last remaining flaps out of a lift-the-flaps book. Lift… Rip… What’s the diff? He was fully engaged in this book, and I was going with it, destruction and all.

Then we built a train track and played with the cheeky one and all his friends. I got down to his level, face to the floor, and pretended I was the voice of Percy (the green train) delivering the mail… or a deadly surprise! Ka-boom! Occasionally, I’d catch a glimpse of Max’s face watching me. Total awe. Best feeling ever. I stayed down there for at least an hour. Damn, sometimes I wish we had carpet.

When I had exhausted my caboose, I opened the lid of the toy-box where long forgotten gadgets were rediscovered. Max took his Fisher Price dog for a vigorous walk; thankfully the pooch hadn’t gained weight after weeks of neglect. He picked up Dustin Nolan (Cabbage Patch Kid), stared into his lifeless eyes, and gave him a flick back into the abyss. Poor Dustin. One day, someone will comb his cornsilk hair and give him a second outfit.

For breakfast, he had a grapefruit and cereal – in a big boy breakable bowl. Shag it. Who cares if he breaks the bowl? As long as it’s not on his eyeball.

At 10:30am we went to the gymnasium at MUN, a new Saturday morning ritual. He ran and jumped and swung as usual, and when it came time for the sing-a-long at the end, he actually sat down, clapped his hands and did the actions to the songs with the other kids. What is this – focus? A rarity for Mad Maximus Murphy in such busy social settings.

For lunch, he ate fresh cod and nine Brussels sprouts. I sang as I cooked. He swayed his hips and arms – his trademark move – to mama’s mediocre music. It was a peaceful meal. No television in the background. No leaning over the side of his highchair to see Handy Manny and his talking tools. It was just me and him and the sound of our chewing.

Next up – bath time. Sun poured in through the bathroom window as I leaned over to wash his copper curls. Everything was blissfully quiet, except for Max’s laughter, the splashing of water, and the squeaky friction of his little butt cheeks on the bottom of the tub. While he played in the bubbles, I wrote a few thoughts down in my trusty notebook. As I was scribbling, a picture of dad fell out from between the pages and onto the floor. Well hello to you too, Poppy Jim; we’re having a great day. (Side-note: When dad was about to take a bath, he’d announce that he was going to go blow bubbles in the tub.)

By 2:30pm Max was zonked and ready for a nap. Breaktime for mama, yeehaw. I had earned this, damn it. Hmmm, what would I do for the next 2.5 hours? Watch TV, of course! Psych. It crossed my mind, but naw. I read a couple pages in a book, “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (which is soooo not short at all), and caught forty winks on the couch. At 5pm I was awakened by a little voice down the hall. The sweetest sound in the world. Well, in my world anyways.

We remained TV-Free until bedtime, at which time we declared it was no longer 1918. 30 minutes of a Thomas dvd and the little man was on the Sodor Express to Dreamland.

Don’t worry, we’ll still be watching television. It’s Superbowl Sunday, for cryin’ out loud! Me and my first round draft pick (he has a onesie that says that) are gonna bust a move at half-time and watch for wardrobe malfunctions. Seriously though, TV is great. In fact, I attribute at least a portion of my creative chops to Mr. Dress-Up, and a small but respectable fraction of my intelligence to Alex Trebek, that sexy, silver-haired nerd. I know Max is learning a lot from TV. But I think we’ll be practicing idiot box moderation from now on. The electronic babysitter is switching to a (very) part-time position. Not just because of the theory that too much TV causes ADHD, but because yesterday felt real and rich and good. Undistracted by sophisticated animation, we made our own silly music in the quiet of each other’s company.




Max’s first word when he wakes up in the morning.

Is this wrong? Maybe. Does it allow me to eat breakfast undisturbed? Hells yeah. So if my toddler being a movie junkie is wrong, then I don’t wanna be right.

Okay, so I do wanna be right. I’m not Lindsay Lohan’s mother for God sake; I actually do want my kid to turn out normal. So I have to ask myself – is Max spending too much time with the electronic babysitter? Will too much tube make my boy a boob?

There’s this theory (I hope it’s just a theory) that too much television watching causes ADHD in small children. I hate to admit it, but it does make sense…

A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics was published in 2004 proposing that “the viewing of television by children less than two years of age is linked to the development of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) later in life. The study found that the quick-paced action and frequent scene shifts of many programs “train” the brain to perceive this type of rapid movement as normal when real everyday life clearly moves at a slower pace. When a child perceives this overstimulation to be the norm, it makes sense that they would be bored by and expect more excitement from everyday life. How can we expect a child who is used to being entertained by flashing lights and quick moving animation to be interested in what their considerably less high-tech teacher is saying in front of the class?”

I have just one thing to say in response to these scientific results: eek.

Maybe this explains Max’s boggled facial expression as he watches Cars, or Wall-E, or – his fave – Toy Story 3. He’s not thinking “wow, cool, look at that!”, he’s thinking “whaaaaaaaaat the fuck is thaaaaaaat???” Confusion escalates to terror when he sees TS3’s monkey with the cymbals. Can’t blame him; that chimp makes me wanna go hide under the bed and suck my thumb.

I’d be sad to see Toy Story 3 go; I’ve watched it about 40 times and could watch it again right now and still be intrigued. God bless you, Disney Pixar. But part of me (my right hand, specifically) would be happy to take all the Thomas dvds and put them in the blender. “They’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight…” The theme song haunts my dreams. It’s the soundtrack to our lives. What does shunting even mean???

Sometimes I also find myself spontaneously breaking into a British accent. This can’t be healthy.

But that wretched song makes Max dance, so I gladly tolerate it. I know one day this stupid song and these little wooden trains will be treasures, placed on a high shelf somewhere, reminders of a simpler time when my little boy, now out there in the big world, was safely under my wing.

So… do I say “No, Max, no more movies today.” Whining ensues, followed by pouty face, then outright crying, then, my favourite, thrashing. When he pounds his fists and forehead on the couch – that’s the best, isn’t it? I know I need to ignore this behaviour so he knows it’s not working, but that’s easier said than done. His unjoy is a dog wrapped around my leg. I just want it to stop, and after a long day at work I’ll do anything to make it so – anything! And when one little flick of a play button can return us to complete and utter tranquility, how can I resist?

Today’s verdict: choo-choo.

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Enough already.

“When ya gonna have another one?”

Oh yes, it’s begun. Now that Max is nearing age two, people are asking when they can expect the second spawning. Not if but when. I mean, you can’t have just one child; that’s just wrong. Are we talking about children here, or potato chips?

Here’s why one is more than enough right now.

As I type, Max is swinging from the bathroom doorknob with a butter knife in one hand and a can of Pledge in the other. Not to mention the flies in his teeth, oatmeal in his hair, and poop in his pants.

Our house is so small, Max sleeps in the porch. Because that’s all there is. A porch. A cleaning lady’s dream.

He came into the world via my vagina. It took less than three hours. Three drug-free hours. Did I mention he came out of my vagina? He may as well have come out of my nostril, or my pinky toenail. For many months, I wore caution tape instead of underwear. Now why on earth would I rush to do this a second time?

Max didn’t sleep through the night for ten months. Can a person go insane during this time? They certainly can. Sleep deprivation has been known to cause psychosis, as well as sarcasm and extreme hyperbole.

I breastfed him for the better part of a year. My reward? I save money on bras. Now I simply tuck the suckers right into my socks. Shoo! Shoo! Sorry, sometimes I get insects and rodents nipping at my feet, looking for a swig.

When we go for walks, he runs in the opposite direction. When he eats, he throws his food. When he sleeps, he wakes up to practice the quintessential horror movie scream. Why, I beseech you, would I add to this chaos? Oh yes, the tender moments. I do enjoy those. And lest we forget the $1,000 cheque! Thanks, Danny boy; that’ll get me a few new outfits for my bulbous bod. I mean diapers, yeah, diapers.

Seriously though, I would like another kid. There’s something sad about seeing an only child. Sure, they get spoiled at Christmas, but it’s little consolation for sitting under that tree all alone. No one to pull the other side of the wishbone. No need for bunk beds. No perfect-match internal organs to borrow down the road. No sister to share clothes with. No brother to help pick out your father’s casket, and share the weight.

Max will have a sibling. Just not yet. Our home, our bank account, and my womb are just not ready. And to all those who insist “you don’t want to have them too far apart” – please, chill. For now, the only things I’m keeping close together are my legs.



There are many reasons why I hate this house. But there are a few reasons why I love it. One of them is the hill in our backyard that makes for the perfect tobogganing experience. Sometimes at night, we hear the laughter of children enjoying the snow-covered knoll, not realizing it’s on our property, or maybe not caring. No odds, because we don’t care either – whoop it up, kids! But next time, pick up your chip bags, ya little bastards.

This Sunday was Max’s first day on the slopes of Chez Murphy. The whole family had fun, but none more than our three-year-old. You know, the kid with the beard. The one who poops in the yard and sweats through her tongue.

We started to deck out in boots, hats and mittens. Splash, our Portuguese Water Dog, knew what this meant – the great outdoors was near. She’s no dummy; she’s been fetching beer from the fridge since she was five months old.

Dogs smile with their tails, and her fluffy appendage was grinning from fuzzy butt cheek to fuzzy butt cheek. Andrew has only to say “where’s my fun pants?” (that’s code for snow pants), and Splash starts to lose her furry little mind, growling eagerly and encircling him with her leash in her mouth.

Andrew and Max were the first to test the speed of our new foam sled. They flew down the hill with Splash racing along beside them, occasionally heaving her four-pawed self toward the sled to derail them.

"Wheeeeee x 3"

When it was my turn to slide down with the boy, Splash stayed at the top of the hill with Andrew. But when Max and I came to a stop at the bottom and looked up, Splash was racing toward us full-tilt, tongue flapping in the sun-kissed winter wind. Half a second before she got to us, she veered to her left, avoiding us by a hair. After the exhilaration of the descent, El Mutto’s antics supplied an unexpected final rush. Well, not really that unexpected. That’s so her. So full of life. A reminder that life is nothing if not fun.

I wrote this little ditty about her once…

The Ultimate Loyalty.
The kind that waits for you on the doormat,
the bathmat,
every mat everywhere
from now ‘til my final loving pat.
She destroys all my abandoned socks,
and all my loneliness,
and all my doubts about true love.
Suddenly I have compassion for anything that breathes.
In every bird and spider and llama, I see her eyes.
All these gifts,
wrapped up in one black and white furball
who, in return,
asks only for a walk, a rub, and a cookie.

Max, in all his childlike wonder, has shown me the meaning of life. When we take him out of the car, the first thing he does is look for the moon. “Mooooooon?” he says, like an uncertain cow, as he points toward the radiant orb in the sky. The light of the moon. The crunch of snow underfoot. The taste of fresh pineapple. He’s discovering the simple joys of being alive. And I get to watch.

But he’s not the first one to show me these simple joys. Splash was my first teacher of this lesson of lessons. (Well my ‘rents were the first, really. But Splash came along when I needed a cosmic reminder.) In a world that feels more like a race than a journey, with people accumulating more and more and feeling less and less, Splash’s humble requirements keep me grounded. A walk, a rub, and a cookie. A dog’s life – how intrinsically simple it is. At this very moment, she lies next to me on a couch big enough for eight of us, secretly hoping for a scratch or a treat, but content to just be here, with me. Quiet companions. I type, and she snores, occasionally raising her head from my thigh when she hears a car go by – could it be him? When I turn off the television and the lights, she’ll know – it’s time for one last tinkle in the garden and then bedtime. Sometimes when she’s tired, she heads for the bedroom and stops halfway and looks back as if to say “you comin’ or what?”

Since Max came along, Splash has inevitably taken the backseat – literally. She used to ride shotgun. At red lights, people in nearby cars would point at us and laugh, realizing the proud passenger was a dog and not a person. Now she’s confined to the backseat, partly because the front seat is full of baby crap, and partly because she chooses to be back there with Max and his delectable food-covered face. Jackpot.

She doesn’t get the exercise she used to or deserves, but we’re trying, and when Max gets a little bigger and less insane in the membrane, we’ll take more outings together – all four of us. Good times are ahead. Like any dog’s life, hers will be too short, so it’s our duty to make these 10-15 years as rich as possible. She doesn’t ask for much. If only the people next door felt a fraction of that sense of responsibility. On Sunday, as Splash frolicked freely in the backyard, their dog watched on longingly from his 6-foot leash, as always. Just another lawn ornament, begging to be stolen.

One thing is for sure – there is no shortage of love here at Chez Murphy. She sleeps with us every night. (Yes, Dog Whisperer, I know that’s unwise, but bite me.) We wake up in the morning and turn to see sleeping Splash, four perfectly straight paws pointing skyward. Without my glasses on, I see a furry, upside-down table. I’m no morning person, but how can I be cranky when I wake up to such a ridiculously cute sight?

If you’re petless, you probably don’t understand. But I won’t count you out. My dad didn’t have a dog, not since I was a toddler. (R.I.P. Skip the Irish Setter). But he loved all creatures. (Here I go again about my dad. Sometimes I think this blog is more about him than it is about Max. I guess it’s the thread of parenthood, stringing us together.) I think dad saw the purity in those big, brown, fur-trimmed eyes. More than once I caught him slipping her treats. A couple summers ago, we were all at my brother’s for dinner.  Splash was tied to the back deck, staring at the windows and doors, whining to come inside where the people (and the food!) were abound. We just ignored her; we’d be going home soon. But a couple of times, I caught a glimpse of dad through the window, kneeling down to give her a gentle pat on the head or a drink of cool water. He recognized her. He saw her for what she was. The purest soul on the property.

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Friendly Reminders.

So. What was your new year’s resolution? Let me guess. You joined the gym. You rededicated yourself to the gym you’ve been donating money to for months out of the goodness of your fat ass. You bought a treadmill (or is it a coat rack?) for your bedroom.

Or wait – you resolved to get organized. To throw out all the clothes you don’t wear and the crap you don’t use, and store away all the things you don’t need but simply can’t part with into big plastic totes that will eventually form an alliance in your basement and conspire to kill you while you sleep.

We all feel the need to turn over a new leaf, start the new year off right. More health-conscious. Less cluttered. Oh January, you stupid whore. By Easter, we’ve all violently tumbled from the wagon, stuffing chocolate into our pie holes hand over fist and buying shiny new crap to replace the old crap to make us feel less crappy about ourselves.

We’re pretty predictable. And marketers cash in on it. Hence the January flyers screaming sales on elliptical machines and Rubbermaid storage tubs as chunky as our post-Christmas waistlines.

As the one-year anniversary of my father’s death approaches, I reckon I have a nobler idea for a new year’s resolution. Friendship. Let’s put some energy into that, compadre. Let’s get our shit together in that department, pal. We are more than wives and mothers, you know. Have you forgotten?

When we were 13, friendship was everything, wasn’t it? We were all looking for acceptance. Someone to have our back, and admire us, and share clothes with us, and be there to pick up the fragile little pieces when we break over something tragically trivial.

Somewhere along the line, we let go. We started our own family. Our kids took over. We lost ourselves a little, or a lot. Friendship became a thing of youth. In the chaos of parenthood, a few acquaintances would suffice.

But I have been reminded as of late – if you can’t make time for friends, you can’t make it. We may not see it now, but we’re gonna need these people – big time. Maybe not today, but one day, when the shit hits the fan. And the shit always hits the fan. You just haven’t seen the shit yet. Maybe you haven’t even bought the fan. But oh, it’s comin’ atcha. Beware of shit. Wanted: friends. And splatter screen.

“The best time to make friends is before you need them.” ~ Ethel Barrymore

I am reminded of the paramount importance of friendship when I speak to my mother. Not because she tells me, but because she is a living, breathing example of how friendship finds you when all else is lost. She is a breast cancer survivor and a widow, but she is not shrouded in black. She has a lust for life despite what she has lost, because she has so many wonderful friends. She has such great friends, because she too is one. When someone is sick, she is the first one to lend a helping hand, and a dozen blueberry muffins. Dad was the same way. Always at the ready to lend a dollar, a poem, or a joke; his name was synonymous with laughter. She carries on his legacy by laughing still.

During dad’s last weeks of life, our humble seaside abode was brimming with concerned friends. And they did not scatter once the curtain fell. They kept coming back. Mom and dad relished many lifelong friendships. Now, mom lives to reap the good they sowed together.

Her husband is gone. Her kids and grandkids are four hours away. And yet when I speak to her on the phone, she is joyful. She spent Christmas in town with her three grandsons, but she was eager to get home for new year’s, to spend that time with her friends, as she always did. She is a solo act among duets now. It’s hard. But she is strong. And with her network of fine friends, she finds comfort, unwavering. And I find relief, knowing my mother is okay.

I am not the world’s greatest pal. I don’t call my people as often as I should. I turn down offers of coffee and movies when it doesn’t suit me well. Frankly, I am bored silly by the vast majority of people. But I see the error of my ways, and I’m improving. We all need to nurture friendships in our youth and maintain them in our prime, so they’re strong and well-polished when we need them most.

Admittedly, I have let some friends drift away over the years. Some of these relationships thrived on convenience and were not meant to be; it’s nobody’s fault.

But the ones that are good and true. The ones of high quality, both old and new. The people we see when we close our eyes and fast-forward 30 or 40 years. (I smell ointment.) We must cherish them – not just in our hearts but in our actions. No matter how much laundry we have to do.

“But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.” ~ Thomas Jefferson


A walking nightmare.

I admit. I sometimes delve a little deep into the sea of emotions. And I take you with me; I’ve heard. I appreciate all of your feedback from the bottom of my digital inkwell.

But ya know, sometimes you gotta keep things light. So today I write about yesterday’s walk from hell. The hike from Hades. The promenade from pandemonium.

It began flawlessly. A beautiful, dry, sunny winter day. A rare December 29th. The trails near Nanny and Poppy’s pad in the Pearl begged to be traipsed; days like these must be savoured. So we all got ready to hit the path – Poppy, Auntie Kim (visiting from Montreal), Uncle Chris (visiting from Vancouver), cousin Aidan, mama (moi), Splash (ruff ruff) and my muse, Mad Max Murphy, who was about to live up to this nickname.

Max held Aunt Kim’s hand and marched along beside her, so happy to be in this magical place they call the outdoors. I thought, okay, we can do this. But I felt a slight twinge of fear as I watched Andrew drive off moments earlier with the stroller peeking out the window of the hatchback. Gulp. Dear, sweet stroller with glorious seatbelt that securely contains ornery offspring in safe and trouble-free confines.

The first three minutes of our excursion went splendidly. Cool breeze. Bright sun. Well-behaved son.

And then…

Max’s independence kicked in. He didn’t need to hold anybody’s hand. Holding hands was for babies! I mean, come on, he had been walking now for like nine whole months; he had this walking shit down pat yo. He was the envy of crawlers everywhere. Booyah.

Okay, fine, so no hand-holding. But he insisted on walking off the pavement of the trails, into the grass beside it, which just so happens to be where every piece of broken glass and dog turd is hiding, waiting for an unsuspecting shoe.

We tried to redirect him to the beaten path, but then he decided he would try out the other side of the trail – the downward sloping side that tumbles into a babbling brook full of jagged rocks and green slime. Excellent.

I’m all for letting him do his thing and acquire a couple bumps and bruises which my grandfather would have affectionately called “larnin’”, but we simply couldn’t let the little frolicker out of our grasp here. If he tumbled over the slope, with no control of his momentum, he’d end up face-first in the stream with a rock in one nostril and a tiny fish in the other, and his two front teeth in his back pocket.

I had started out chilly, wishing I had brought along my hat and mittens. By now, just 10 minutes in, I was sweating, and cursing Andrew for driving off with the sacred stroller; someone must be blamed! But I mustered up my courage and trudged on, this time holding the hood of Max’s coat to try and steer him in the direction of the rest of the Murphy pack, or just away from certain death. But no go; if we were walking that way, Max was walking – no, running – this way. And I swear, if I stood there and let him go, waving my hand and saying “bye-bye, Max”, he’d just keep on going. I tried it, several times. Does he look back? Sure. And then he chuckles, flashing every little tooth in that gorgeous head of his, and keeps on motoring. If I could read his mind, he’d be shouting Freeeeeeedom!, Braveheart style. My little rogue warrior. My little reason to drink wine straight from the bottle.

Then things took a turn for the worse. Puddles. It had rained – a lot – a couple of days earlier, depositing pools of water in every darn dent in the asphalt. Max’s socks and shoes were wet within seconds. That’s all we need – to start the new year off with pneumonia. We tried everything to divert his attention. But as soon as I’d attempt to guide him in another direction, he’d fall to the ground in a wiry heap. Next thing he’d be face and eyes into a big, cold puddle, and that would just be gross. The only way to drag him away? Body and bones.

Between myself and Chris, we made our way back to the house with Max kicking and screaming in our arms. He flicked off his sneakers, snatched my sunglasses off my face, and grabbed at my earrings. Big-time ginger spite. There was no going back now. I just needed to get him inside and into his cage.

When we finally reached the house, I ripped off his soaking shoes, socks and pants, and released him into the living room, still crying and flailing his arms. Within seconds, the diapered demon had snatched the remote controls off the coffee table and hurled them, one by one, over the stairs into the porch.

So. That was an enjoyable walk. Perhaps similar to the walk to the electric chair. Or a walk on red-hot coals en route to a cannibal feast where you are the main course. Or the walk toward a room with a door that reads “drug-free childbirth”.

One day he’ll be able to walk sensibly beside me as I point out trees – “Look, that’s a fir, like a Christmas tree!” And birds – “That’s a Blue Jay, like the baseball team!” And other items in nature – “That’s not a furry white rock, honey. Put that down.”

But that day was not yesterday, and it probably won’t be tomorrow either. So, unless there’s a chariot (i.e. stroller) awaiting us, we’ll just stay put right here where it’s warm and safe, and where mommy is perfectly sane. Max will play with his trains, and I’ll finish writing about the time we took that crazy-ass walk on the trails near Nanny and Poppy Murphy’s house. One day, we’ll read this together and laugh, maybe while he’s holding my old, withered hand as we slowly walk along some trails somewhere.

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An untraditional Christmas…

Christmas is steeped in tradition. For many of you, I bet your mother put up the tree in the very same corner of the living room with the very same tacky-ass ornaments. You eat fish and go to church once a year on Christmas Eve. You open your gifts in the same general routine as always. You get deodorant in your stocking. (Clearly, you stink.) You stuff yourself with turkey at precisely the same time on Christmas Day and blah blah blah…

And now as mothers yourselves, you have brought much of that tradition into your own home, to your own children. The magic your parents created for you, you create for them. Maybe you even have a few old family heirlooms around, warming your cockles, casting their shadows of Christmases past. Myself, I have a little ceramic tree that is illuminated from within by a lightbulb. It used to be my Nan and Pop’s. For me, it’s symbolic of a simpler time, when Christmas was no work, no worries, all joy. It sits less than two feet from where I now type. A few of the coloured pegs are missing, the result of frequent moving. If my house were burning down, I’d like to think I’d have enough room in my arms for that little tree. Ironically, it may be the tree that causes the fire.

I have fond memories of Christmas, I do. But nothing was set in stone. I have traditions that I savour, but I am not attached to anything specifically. If I don’t have a tree in my living room, I’m not going to feel like an empty vessel. If I don’t get a bunch of presents, I am not going to have an epileptic seizure. I’m more than okay with imperfection – when it comes to Christmas, at least. (My hair is another story.) Which might explain why I had a very untraditional Christmas this year. Or maybe it was something else.

The fir tree, killed and dragged from the mighty forest by my handsome hunter husband, stood in my living room, undecorated, until late on Christmas Eve night. Appalling, isn’t it? And when I did finally hang the bulbs, I may as well have worn a blindfold. The tree lights – that’s the husband’s job. Because if it were mine, I would toss them on there from three feet away and wherever they land, they land. When I told my friend Robin about my bare bush, er, I mean tree, she told me she had decorated five trees already, three in her own home. And she is on maternity leave! When I was on mat leave, I showered once a week, sometimes with water.

Maybe there is something wrong with me. Or maybe there is something with her. (Oh hi, Robin!)

We didn’t put any lights on the house. I could have nagged at the husband to hang them, but why bother picking that fight? Our lights suck reindeer wang anyway.

Maybe my lack of jolly gusto is because, this year, I have a three-foot, 28-pound bulldozer running through the house. Unfortunately none of my holiday décor is made of rubber.

Or maybe the fact that my dad is not here just makes everything else seem petty. Who gives a flying fuck about trees and lights and gifts?

Don’t get me wrong; my state of disillusion did not deter me from creating magic for my boy. We sing to Christmas music in the car. (He doesn’t say too much yet, but he sure can bust a move, and when I crank the car tunes he sways to the sound of the chimes.) He awoke on Christmas morn to a new wooden train track assembled under the tree. And on the night before Christmas, he met Dustin Nolan, his first (and only, if his father has anything to say about it) Cabbage Patch Kid. Max combed Dustin’s hair with the attached brush, gave him a little squeeze, then flicked him facedown onto the hardwood floor. I’m fairly certain we’re raising a heterosexual.

My holiday attitude occasionally conflicts with my husband’s. See, he was raised in Santa’s village. The mother-in-law has toned things down in recent years, especially since the arrival of the latest batch of grandkids, but a few years back… wow. I remember going there for the first time during the holidays. The front door swung open to unleash a sea of red, green and white. My eyes were as big as saucers. Not a square inch of white space to be seen. On every mantle or shelf sat a maddening elf or singing angel. From every nail dangled a dancing Santa or psychedelic stocking. And they’re Catholic (seven children, hello), so there were at least a couple Baby Jesuses around for good (like, really good) measure. And to top it off, there she be in her fur-trimmed red apron and sleigh bell earrings. It was like Christmas had thrown up right there in the Pearl. And ya know, I liked it. I really liked it. More trifle, please.

But I didn’t like it so much that I was going to replicate it. Hell no. And Andrew is okay with that. Sort of. Hey, it spares him from having a list of “things to do before December 25th.” But there are a couple of times when I must bow to tradition to refrain from shattering his childhood. Take the stocking thing. At Chez Murphy, the stockings were more exciting than the gifts. So last year, when I expressed to Andrew that I wasn’t going to bother with stockings, he was like whaaaaaaat. We may as well have not put up a tree, or gotten up in the morning. So his mother scrambled to put one together for him. Bad, bad daughter-in-law. This year, I stuffed his stocking with condoms and cash.

Long story short, I am clearly not grounded in tradition. I’m adaptable. And that’s a good thing. Because the people and the things around us when we were children don’t last. Things break. People break. And life goes on. We must make new traditions. Ride the winds of change. And not lose our shit when things don’t come together with glorious perfection. We just do the best we can to find joy in this crazy world, and create it for others – whether that be through long-standing tradition or frequent change. As long as the love is a constant.


A word from the snottery…

Andrew and I make a great team. One of us holds down Mad Max’s flailing limbs while the other one squirts pretty, pink antibiotics into his mouth.

“Here ya go, buddy, take the yummy medicine and make your ears allllll better.”

WHOOF! He smacks the syringe out of my hand with a jerk of frustration. We both silently hold one another’s gaze for a moment. He knows he’s done something bad. He knows the wrath of Mother Ginger is coming.

“Okay, that’s it ya little bugger, open up.”

I snatch the syringe out of the dog’s mouth.

Legs kick, arms punch the air, copper curls swirl with pint-sized insanity.

“Daddy!” I call in the reinforcements.

“Holy crap, he’s squirmy.”

“And strong! Hurry up and get it in there.”

“He’s fighting me with his tongue.”

“Ouch, he bit me!”


“Okay, five mills, we’re done.”

“Now, see, that wasn’t so bad, was it buddy?”

The wild billy goat is free. Tears dry up instantly. Peace resumes. “High five, honey!” Meet you here in four hours for another rumble with the rascal.

Oddly, Max has not yet discovered that he could actually spit the medicine out instead of swallowing it. Kids are so dumb.

Sometimes he takes the syringe and drinks it like it’s liquid candy; mmmmm, bubble gum. But if he’s not in the mood, he’ll flick that gadget at your retina quicker than you can say penicillin. Hence the need for force. We’ll traumatize him with our aggressive methods, but hey, at least his ears will work.

I used to inwardly judge people whose kids were always sick. I mean clearly it was because their kids ate nothing but wieners and chicken nuggets, or because their house was filthy rotten dirty. But now I see the snot-nosed truth. Every kid is a cesspool of disease and infestation. A towering kettle of snot ready to explode at any given moment. The reason the Kleenex people are filthy stinkin’ rich.

Max is a pretty healthy boy. When he gets sick, he’s tough about it. Even with boogers flying, he’s still motorin’. And wiping his nose-goo into the couch. But he has had a few ailments since I went back to work, when I released him into the big, scary world beyond my ample bosom. (Okay it’s not so ample anymore, but it felt right so I said it.)

He has rocked the pinkeye with style.

He has sported a polka-dot rash on his belly. The doctor took one look and said, “roseola”. I was confused; he doesn’t even eat Chef-Boyardee.

Recently, he had the croup with that distinct seal-like bark – a sound so startling, I caught sight of someone lurking in the bushes outside the house wielding a club and a thirst for blood in the snow.

And now he has an ear infection for which he is getting his first (but surely not his last) dose of antibiotics.

I’d like to think I’m keeping my boy as germ-free as possible. He loves broccoli, brussel sprouts, and fish – good immunity-boosting foods, I reckon.

(Brussel sprouts: world's most exciting meal.)
(There's more than one way to eat corn, missus.)

I mean sure he has his treats, and the occasional heaping pile of good ol’ Kraft Dinner. And seriously, what kind of mother would I be if I didn’t let him lick the beaters? It’s a rite of passage, mandatory in my books.

(zombie beater-lickin' baby)

I blow the dirt off the fork when it hits the floor; if there’s a sink or a wet rag nearby, I might even rinse it off. I dress him nice and warm so he doesn’t catch a chill. And I try and keep him away from other kids who are snottin’ and barkin’ and spreading their cooties. Which is virtually impossible, because there is always at least one kid in the room who is clearly an expert in boogerology. I once saw a little girl with her hair stuck to her face on both sides – with what one might call homemade glue. I almost tossed my cookies.

(attack on poppy murphy's birthday cake)

I can’t keep my mini in a bubble. And even if I could, I wouldn’t. He needs to be around people, even other little three-foot pillars of phlegm. Besides, not all germs are bad. Yogurt is bacteria! So there. And some bacteria found in our ears and mouths actually protect us from invading pathogens.

Colds and ear infections and this-ola and that-itis… It’s all a part of childhood. Nature’s way of armouring our little soldiers for life. We just do the best we can to keep them healthy, roll with the punches, and thank Lady Luck for sparing us from anything worse (and bribe her with our souls to keep it that way.)

Note: I used the word snot too many times in this post. Turns out there are snot a lot of synonyms for snot.

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Full Steam Ahead!

Children’s books. Why are they so dang boring? Okay, I get it, they keep things simple so our kidlets can comprehend what they’re seeing and hearing. But dudes, there are only so many times I can read Green Eggs and Ham and Love You Forever before I want to cut my own tongue out. Don’t get me wrong; Dr. Seuss and Robert Munsch are bonifide geniuses, but these and many other books have lost their luster for me. Sadly, the classics become common; the overdone becomes ordinary.

I seek children’s books that entertain my big momma brain as well as my boy’s. Hey, I’m the one who has to read them a thousand times a day; it’s only fair. I yearn for the day when Max is ready for the likes of Shel Silverstein. (I’ll write more about that mastermind down the road). But I could be waiting a while. Just shy of the 20-month mark, Max is more of a ripper than a reader. When it comes to turn-the-flap books, our home is no house of learning; it’s a slaughterhouse. The “flaps” pool around our feet, after floating around the air in our living room like Forrest Gump feathers.

This will be the first post in my Books section where I’ll feature some of my favourite children’s lit. Starting with this one… I Knew You Could, by Craig Dorfman.

It’s a book about a train, but it’s not just for little boys. It’s not even just for children. It’s for everyone, especially those who are going through something big – a graduation, an illness, a career change, a death. See, it’s not really about a train; it’s about life – that journey. In fact, the subtitle is “A Book for All the Stops in Your Life”. Based on the 1930 classic The Little Engine That Could, it choo-choos about the importance of hope and determination. But unlike the classic American tale of prose, I Knew You Could is magnificent, mouthwatering poetry. So not only do I like what it says; I love how it sounds. Every rhyming couplet is a little burst of wisdom; not one word is wasted. Maybe one day it’ll teach my Max to be an optimistic, hard-working, resilient person. But right now, while my boy is using his books as ramps for his cars and victims of his toddler terror, it’ll teach me to be a better mother.

We all have those “woe is me” moments when we wish we were someone or somewhere else, when we wish we had more money, more talent, more luck. This verse reminds us that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the tracks.

Sometimes you’ll look up and see planes in the sky,
And you’ll think to yourself, “I wish I could fly.”
The cars on the roads will seem quick and free –
You’ll feel stuck on your track and think, “I wish that was me.”
But the plane might wish he could get out of the air,
Saying, “I wish I could travel like that train down there.”
The cars will watch as you speed right along,
And they’ll say to each other,
“Look how fast and how strong!”
Don’t worry about not being a car or a plane,
Just enjoy the trip you’ll take as a train.

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Believe it or not.

If we value honesty so much, why do we tell our kids there’s a Santa Claus? One of the most elaborate lies of all time. At the tender age of 11, a friend reveals the earth-shattering truth and, upon some light investigation, they discover the gifts in mom’s closet… From Santa. From Santa my ass. But I guess this opens up a whole can of worms that reek of bullshit. Santa. The tooth fairy. The Easter bunny. Heaven. God. (Oh stop your gasping.)

On Thursday night, my brother and I went back to the homestead to attend a memorial service, hosted by the local funeral home. A tribute to all those who died in the last 12 months. Our father included.

Hymns were sung. Holy words were spoken. I heard the word “father” over and over and over. But they were not talking about my father. They were talking about the father. You know, the one with the Son and Holy Spirit to boot. That elusive, three-fold enigma.

I had brought my inner skeptic with me. Righteous dudes, who is this God person we’re talking about? I’m here to think about my father, not the father of humanity who seems more the stuff of legends than reality. I know my dad existed, and still exists in me and in everything I do. But you have to admit – the rest sounds a little sketchy.

When we sang How Great Thou Art, I was singing about dad. How great he was.

“When through the woods and forest glades I wander,
I hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze…”

My dad loved nature. So for me, those lyrics are about what he enjoyed, not what God created. Sue me!

Don’t get me wrong; I was touched by the event. The mutual loss. A room full of people who will celebrate (or lament) this Christmas with an empty chair at the dinner table. Words floated up into the air above our sadness, spelling out I know how you feel. The genuine sympathy of those employed by the Grim Reaper himself, working under a cloud of death, day in and day out; a well-deserved paycheck. In the past 52 weeks, 82 people had died in our town and surrounding area. That’s about 1.5 deaths a week. And with an ever-aging community, those numbers will continue to rise. Corpses flying. In fact, another funeral home is about to open any day now. Maybe the cost of caskets will drop. Deadly.

I giggled a couple of times. A few righteous brothers were raising their hands to the sky, eyes closed, all full of the trinity and what not. Dad would have looked at me with that notoriously foolish face, subtly mocking the drama; so I did the same to mom. When one musical act was performing, a hot mess indeed, I drew a thumbs-down sketch on my program and flashed it at mom. When I saw her blank-faced expression, I took a second glance at my drawing and realized – it looked just like a penis.

How do you take the whole God thing seriously when your brain is full of dinosaurs and evolution and comparative anatomy? We came from fish, you know. Explain that, Pope. And yes, I know there are wonders all around us that defy science and logical explanation. But all in all, the God thing is a bit of a stretch. I’m not atheist; I’m just a half-assed believer. Seriously, can you blame me? (Note to self: rent Contact again.)

There are two reasons I choose to sort-of-believe…

Reason one: my dad. A super intelligent man with a faith so profound, there simply has to be something to the fuss.

Reason two: Max. I don’t want to raise a child on bull crap, but more importantly I don’t want to raise a cynic. My boy must be full of hope and possibility. I will introduce him to my religion – WhoFuckinKnowsism. The principles of this doctrine? Many things are unlikely, but anything is possible. There is no absolute knowledge; I know nothing, and neither do you. I have doubts; everyone does – and should! And if someone says they have no doubts, they’re full of horseshit.

I’ll tell Max about Jesus and all that good stuff. The life lessons of the parables beat Aesop’s fables, hands down. I’ll give Max the information (and the hope) and one day my little Christian can decide for himself.

After all, how can I tell him about Santa but not God? God. Santa. Heaven. Yes, they exist. Well, probably not. But maybe. Let’s just say it’s more likely than not that they exist. Let’s go with that. And have something to look forward to. Besides a satin-lined box in a cold, cold ground.

Max watched his first movie on the big screen a couple weeks ago – The Polar Express. I had seen it before, of course. But the theme is even more relevant to me now in my motherhood. It’s a story about believing in that which you cannot see. They’re talking about Santa. But I think they’re also talking about God.

Perhaps what feeds my inner skeptic most is the image we conjure up in our mind’s eye. Heaven: a place in the clouds where the deceased go to hang out and play harps and eat Philadelphia Cream Cheese. God: a gentle-faced, white-robed chess master way up there in the Almightosphere, surveying his handiwork but unable to interfere. (Let’s go with this theory since I’d hate to imagine an all-powerful being simply choosing not to prevent the Holocaust.) Santa: a jolly geezer in a creepy red suit, delivering toys to children all around the world in one night.

Forget the imagery; let’s focus on the feeling. An emotion without flesh or postal code. It’s believing in what is possible but not proven. It’s HOPE. And hope is more essential to life than air and water. Especially when life gets tough. Which it always does, sooner or later. For all of us.

I don’t know for certain about God, or Heaven, and I have epic doubts about that Kringle fella. The only things I know for certain: hope springs eternal and love is immortal. Love is the miracle that doesn’t rely on fantasy or organized religion. It spans all space and time, beyond death, beyond all the material bullshit in which we are immersed. Forgive me all you jovial Jesus fans, but at the memorial service I was not feeling the love of God; I was feeling the love of my dad. But maybe, and I think dad would agree, they are one and the same. I’m not saying my dad was God (although some might say he was a deity of sorts); I’m saying that God is not a person or a place or even a He. God is just another word for Love. Plain and simple. And in that case, I wholeheartedly believe.

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