Category Archives: My Kids and Family

New Camera

Just after Christmas I got my first DSLR camera. Nothing fancy. An entry level Nikon D3200 that I picked up at a Boxing Week sale.

I’ve wanted a DSLR for a long time. I used to shoot film with a Yashica 35mm, but when that bit the dust a decade ago, I switched to digital point and shoot as DSLR’s were crazy expensive at that time. But in the back of my mind, I always planned on getting a DSLR.

The proverbial straw came this past Christmas when I ordered our family printed calendar from Shutterfly. Each year for the past 8, I sift through the family photos for the year, pick the best, and print a calendar for the next year.

Well, this year when I got the calendar, I was extremely disappointed by the number of blurry, low light, fuzzy and generally craptacular photos from the past year…

A good photo made bad by a camera phone

Good photo op gone bad.

The phone camera just wasn’t cutting it, especially since the vast majority of photos we take are in the low light of our house.

A second reason I decided this was the year was the subject in the photo above – my daughter. This past year, she has taken a real interest in photography, claiming the ancient Canon Sureshot – that first digital camera I bought close to a decade ago – as her own. She didn’t mind the age. She was too busy enjoying taking pictures and making videos with the limited capacity of the camera. So, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for both of us to kindle a common interest together, and this Christmas, she got a new camera as well. Not a DSLR, but a decent quality point and shoot number with a few manual overrides.

This month, we have been learning our new cameras together. I’ve been trying to take D’arcy Normans  advice to shoot a lot of photos, and my daughter and I have been going out on the town for photo walks together, taking pictures of whatever strikes our fancy. And we’re having a blast.

DSC_0154 Morning light photo shootDSC_0163These cameras have already proven to be one of the best purchases I’ve made in a long time.

Thank you, Internet Archive

I started this blog in 2004 when my daughter was just under a year old. In those days, blogging was still a pretty technical thing. Other than Blogger, there was not a lot of options on the web for hosting a blog unless you did it yourself. So I did. I mean, I really did it myself. I bought an old surplus computer and turned it into a web server. I installed a copy of WordPress (then called b2) and went at ‘er. 

I was young. I was reckless. Backups? We don’t need no stinkin’ backups.

I was writing like a machine. Blog posts popped up everyday…sometimes 2 or 3 a day. I was a partial stay at home Dad with a young daughter who took long afternoon naps. Time was endless. Funny, because at the time I can remember thinking I didn’t have a lot of time and I was soooooo busy. How our perceptions of time can get so warped by whatever stage we are in our life. Oh, to have the time I thought I didn’t have then, now.

It was inevitable that some kind of disaster would strike my fragile, perilous second hand DIY web server, and in 2005 it did. My server died. No backups. Well, some backups, but rather haphazard. At the time I didn’t think nothing of it. I remember thinking, “ah well, I lost a few blog posts, no big whoop”.

Fast forward a half dozen years and an idle night playing on the Wayback Machine provided by the Internet Archive. Hmmm, I wonder…

I type in and what pops up makes me kick myself for not doing this sooner. And for being so damn cavalier about the information I lost.

As I sift through this archive of posts, I am swept back to a time that seems so long ago, yet was so recent. 2005. Just 7 years ago. I am reading posts about moving out of our first house when my daughter was 2. 

Our first house. Her only house.

The reasons are valid: not enough space, a backyard that remains flooded from November to March, no dining room, too much tripping over each other. Yet it is still sad to leave the memories, like walking into this house with the girl the very first time. That moment when her Mom and I exchanged a sideways glance that we both knew meant, “This is it. We’re on our own. Now what?” I never knew one glance could reveal so much information.

This is the bedroom where we first stayed up all night with a sick girl, throwing up over and over and forcing us to cancel a (rare) planned weekend trip away from home that we had both been looking forward to. Another sideways glance. Ah well, I guess this is what being a parent is all about.

Memories of the frustrations of being the stay at home parent of a 2 year old.

Like I said, some days just seem harder than others. The extra struggle trying to get her dressed as she flops around like an electrified octopus, screaming and crying at the top of her lungs. The extra effort of trying to strap a 2×4 into a car seat so you won’t be late for her play group. Trying to play United Nations peacemaker with the other kids, negotiating the landmine of 2 pushcars for 30 kids. The extra concentration required while you try to carry on a phone conversation with a roofer with a human fog horn strapped to your leg bellowing DADDYDADDYDADDYDADDY! And the constant demands for upeee, uppeeee, upppeeeee.

Some days it is all I can do from screaming TAKE ME AWAY FROM HERE! Get me back to the sanity of backstabbing co-workers and bastard bosses. Of impossible deadlines and even more impossible budgets. Take me back to sanity of the real world.

Surviving my first parental experience with puke

Maggie puked on me for the first time. Not a little baby spit up after an over the shoulder burp – but a full-on, gut emptying, projectile spewing geyser. At one point, I swear I saw her kidney come up.

I knew the moment would eventually come and I had been dreading it. Smell is a powerful sense for me, and I don’t do well with foul scent. My wife discovered this about me when we walked into our house once after spending a month traveling in Turkey only to find our freezer had crapped out sometime between Gallipoli and Istanbul. She quickly realized I wouldn’t be much help digging the previously frozen blackberries and chicken out from the bottom of the dearly departed freezer.

Mom was at work today, so it was just Maggie and me – poor girl. She has been sick in the past, but never quite this sick. So I carried her off to the bathroom and stripped us both down. I toyed with giving her a bath, but she was looking quite stunned, and I couldn’t quite bare the thought of inflicting a bath on her when it looked like the only thing she wanted to do was crash. So I wiped her off as best I could, dressed her and gave her some water. Ten minutes later she was fast asleep on my chest. A chest, I must admit, that was a bit bigger knowing that I had handled my first major vomit situation with my breakfast intact.

The voice of the 2005 me. The new Dad me.

I haven’t recovered everything. I know there was more. But what I did manage to recover is better than gold. And now has been transferred to this blog. With weekly backups. Hosted on redundant servers. And tonight, I am hugely grateful to the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine.

How do I tell my daughter she looks nice?

I’ve been watching my 8 year old daughter start to play with her identity. It’s a wonderful thing to watch her develop into her own person and begin to visually express on the outside who she feels she is on the inside. Yet, this is also causing me some confusion as I grapple with how I should respond.

This Christmas she received a gift card from her aunt to an accessory store. You know, that store in the mall where they sell cheap jewelery and every item is adorned with cuter-than-cute airbrushed images of Justin Bieber or bejewelled and bedazzled to within an inch of its life. One of the items she bought was a pair of glasses. Now, my daughter doesn’t need glasses. She bought them simply as a fashion accessory. She wanted to see how she would look with glasses on.

This morning she came down the stairs from her bedroom wearing both the glasses and a pink bandanna headband. She looked adorable, and I was just about to say, “hey, you look cute.” And then I caught myself. If I say that, what is my daughter really going to hear? That making a change in her appearance gets her noticed as “cute”? And what of that word “cute” anyway? What am I saying to my daughter when I say she looks “cute”? Am I seeding the thought in her that her self-worth is tied to her appearance?

Of course, I didn’t think all that consciously in that split second where I paused, questioning my choice of phrase. This has all come after as I reflect on the moment. But something in that moment did make me hesitate and check what I was about to say and, instead of saying she looked cute, I said ,”hey, who are you and what have you done with my daughter?” She smiled and giggled and went into the bathroom.

I don’t know if that was a better choice of words, but it felt better in the moment than saying, “hey, you look cute.”

I’ve been thinking about this for the rest of the day. Our words carry so much weight with our kids. I know sometimes it doesn’t feel that way (is she listening to me?) but they do, and they are listening. Always. I hear the things I say come rolling out of my kids mouths all the time. They take it all in.

What do I say to her? I love that she is beginning to play with her identity and make her outside a reflection of who she feels she is on her inside. But what do I say to let her know that I don’t think her self-worth is connected to how she looks?

8 year old me

Glasses. I used to get beat up when I was a kid for wearing glasses and here she is wearing them as an accessory. Fine by me, which is me projecting my own feelings about what those glasses represent. Intelligence? Brains? Really, if she wants to project an image that she is intelligent and brainy, isn’t that okay? Better than short skirts and makeup, right?

Or is it? I mean, I am still making a judgement call about her based on how she looks, projecting my own assumptions and beliefs about what something like glasses represent. Am I not still making a judgement based on her appearance?

There are going to be times when I want to compliment her on her appearance. She’s beautiful, and I want to tell her that. I want to notice. Maybe I want to say it to her as a shield to protect her from the message that she will be constantly bombarded with by popular culture and advertising that she is not. She’s my little girl and I want to protect her. But on the other hand I don’t want to start sending her signals that men only notice her when she looks a certain way.

So, I’m feeling a bit caught right now. What do I say to my daughter? Is it okay to tell her I think she looks nice? That she is beautiful? Any advice?

The hardest thing I have ever had to do

Mom & Dad

Sandi Lalonde August 18, 1946 – February 8, 2011

“Call Me Sandi!”

If you were a friend of a 16 year old me, that is probably the first thing you heard my Mom say when you met her – “Call Me Sandi!”

It was said with that unique larger than life “Call Me Sandi” attitude. Those of you who knew my Mom in another time probably remember that Sandi. The Sandi who loved to laugh, who’s exuberance, zeal and brash attitude made her a sassy broad in all the best senses of that term. As I have been thinking back on my Mom over these past few days, I have been thinking a lot about “Call Me Sandi.”

“Call Me Sandi” – a lover of all things cherub and angel, of things dainty, precious and delicate. Of Elvis, and of her family.

“Call Me Sandi” was a scrapper – she never gave up. Stubborn and headstrong, she could be as tenacious as a pit bull. I often grew up thinking my mom coined the term the best defense is a good offense. Which is, perhaps, why the past few years have seemed especially difficult as I watched a scrapper fade.

Mom was a proud homemaker, but when times got tough would take on extra work as a medical receptionist, a teacher aide or whatever else was required to make ends meet.

She was also a crafty lady – she never met a craft that she didn’t like. She cherished working with ceramics, floral arrangements, swags, dolls and anything else that required imagination and creativity, and she often gave these creations away to friends, family members and even acquaintances who admired special pieces.

Mom loved to bake, and I remember when I was a kid that Christmas baking season began around the same time as the first day of school. And even though we were only a family of 5, by the time Christmas rolled around Mom and Dad had stockpiled enough Nanaimo bars, date squares, slices, Cinnamon rolls, puffed wheat cake,nuts and bolts, rice krispie squares, rum balls. matrimonial squares, rocky road squares, Maple fudge, chocolate fudge, runny fudge, peanut butter cookies and great shortbread cookies to feed a family of 35 for 5 Christmases. When I asked my childhood friends this week about their favorite memories of my Mom, it amazed me how many people’s responses included memories of my Mom’s baking.

When my sister and I arrived at the house Wednesday night, we discovered a book of Mom’s that my sister had given her some years ago. It was a kind of diary called Reflections from a Mother’s Heart – your life story in your own words. It turns out, Mom made a few entries in the book and answered some of the questions, and we would like to share with you some of Mom’s earliest memories – memories that we, too, are just discovering.

What was your favorite pastime as a child? My favorite pastime was playing with paper dolls and dressing up and putting on plays with my sister Dee and all the neighbour girls. I also liked playing school and I was the teacher as we were the only family to have chalk and a chalk board.

What are your earliest memories of church? I went to church when I was six. My earliest memory was that the minister talked and talked. It was a very long service.

List one special memory you have of each of your brothers and sisters.

  • Pat – Lots of fun. Played games with me.
  • Viv – Taught me Grade 5 math and gave me perms.
  • Dot – Took me along for rides in the car with her and her boyfriends. Bought me a dress.
  • Dee – Taught me to twirl a baton.
  • Eileen – When her and I would fight, she would take my clothes and hide them, especially if I had a favorite skirt or sweater. Eventually she gave them back.
  • Al – Gave me cigarettes (funny. I’ll bet there are a lot of people who could say the same about my Mom). He let me use his nice sweater.
  • Dick – Built us forts and played with me.

Family relationships are seldom easy, often complicated and full of twists and turns that can sometimes take you into dark places. You all know. You are all part of families. These relationships bring with them the highest highs and the lowest lows. But at the heart of it all is always love. No matter how dark things get, love endures. It is the glue that holds us together. The light that illuminates. And it is love that has brought us all here today to pay tribute to my mom.

Just call her Sandi.

Excerpts from the eulogy I gave to my Mom on February 12, 2011

0 to 10 years in 1 min 25 seconds

We are 70% of the way through this cycle with The Girl, who , in just a few days, turns 7.

My Dad doing his Christmas thing

My Dad's Christmas decorations

This is my Dad. Over the years he has taken some friendly ribbing about his enthusiastic Christmas decorations. It got worse once Christmas Vacation was released and we now had a name to lovingly hang on my Dad – Clark W Griswald. My Dad had so many cutouts, lights and decorations on our yard that they actually spilled over to the neighbours yard.

We grew up in a small town, and I have vivid (and sometimes embarrassing) memories of the traffic being backed up on our street Christmas Eve, flashbulbs popping as strangers took pictures of our house. I’m certain the flashes were redundant.

A few years ago, my retired parents moved from the town I grew up in to the town they grew up in. A province away. I thought that would have been the end of the decorations, considering they alone would probably fill a 1 ton U-Haul. But Dad packed them all up and took them and has continued the tradition at their new home.

As I get older with my own kids and spend more time in my childhood memories than is probably healthy, I have come to deeply appreciate this tradition that my Dad worked hard to carry on. Traditions are important. They are the glue that holds family together across time. And as the years go by, I have this feeling of pride in the fact that my Dad brought smiles to many faces, and probably contributed to a few other families Christmas traditions – the Christmas Eve drive-by of the Lalonde house.

Nice work, Chuck.

The Bickersons

Ever seen a cat kicking a dog's ass?

The things you learn when you blog.

I went to write this post and, on a lark, Google’d the term “bickersons”. I have heard that term used throughout my life to mean two people who do nothing but argue. Turns out, The Bickersons was actually a post-WW2 radio comedy series starring Don Ameche and Francis Langford as two married people who do nothing but argue.

I feel like I know this radio play well. No, not my wife and I. It’s the kids.

It has gotten so bad that we have taken them to our family doctor to see if there is anything medically wrong with them. Turns out that was a good call as it appears that The Boy is suffering from a severe bout of LBS (Little Brother Syndrome). LBS symptoms include an incessant need to sit on his sisters half of the couch, poke her in the back and then run away, and mess up perfectly ordered lines of crayons.

His older sister has also been diagnosed with OSPMS (Older Sibling Parentitis Münchausen Syndrome), whose symptoms include assuming the proxy role of a parent when none are in the same room, an unnatural desire to strictly enforce all rules (real and imagined) and maintain extreme control over all living beings smaller than her who live within close physical proximity.

The Doctor has assured us that this is quite normal and that the symptoms will decrease in occurrence the closer to December 25th we get. However, the long term prognosis does not look good, and we can expect both conditions to flame up again early in the new year, with possible spontaneous outbreaks over the next 10 to 20 years.

Photo: Ever seen a cat kick a dogs ass? by Charles Nouÿrit used under Creative Commons license.

THE Talk

Last night, my wife greeted me at the door with the statement, “well, The Girl now knows how babies are made.” Apparently, a good friend of hers at daycare told her all the details last week. Surprisingly, he got most of the details quite right, but there were a few little unanswered questions that my wife had to fill in the blanks on. When they finished talking, there was a pause as my daughter digested the information. After a moment, she had one more question.

“Soooooo, ” she said, pieces falling into place, “you and Dad had to do that TWICE?”

Julia Sweeney has just had “The Talk” with her 8 year old daughter. Best line in this TED Talk – “It’s like putting the waste treatment plant right next to an amusement park.”

Tonight, I am incredibly indebted to the kindness of strangers

I had turned my cell phone ringer off, so it wasn’t until the conference lunch break that I noticed I had a half dozen missed calls waiting for me. When you have kids, and you get 6 calls in the course of a few hours, you get uneasy. I phoned my wife.

“What’s up?”

“The police called me this morning and said there was an incident with G at preschool.”

Immediately my stomach drops, coming to rest on the floor of my pelvis. It is amazing how fast the synapses can fire in less than a second, and how many random scenarios you can play out in your heard before you hear the line after that one. Accident? Hospital? Injury? Anyphylactic reaction of my 3 year old allergic son?

“He’s okay,” said my wife, her voice quivering on the other end of the line. “The preschool forgot him at the playground.”

“What?” My stomach lurches.

“They went to the playground for a Sportball lesson. While they were there another parent dropped of their kid, and they miscounted before they walked back to the centre. He got left behind in the park.”

She goes into the details. He was playing, looked around and realized he was all alone. Everyone was gone. He started crying. We’ve talked to him about this scenario before – if he gets lost he should look for a Mom with kids and ask for help. So, he does. Crying, he manages to find a Mom and tell her his preschool has left. So the Mom calls 911. Police are on the way. Meanwhile, another Mom in the playground notices the commotion and comes over. She somehow manages to figure out that the preschool G goes to is the same as the one her nephew goes to. Lucky. The police arrive. A phone call is made back to the preschool, and a few minutes later a breathless preschool teacher arrives back in the park. Both she and G are given a ride back to the preschool by the police, who spend some time talking to the staff.

My little guy is okay. By the time we picked him up, the incident was becoming distant. His first words to us when we walked into the preschool playground was “Dad, guess what? Today I climbed a tree!”  This was followed by “…and got to ride in a police car.”

I am so full of mixed emotions about this incident. We have had an incredible relationship with this daycare/preschool for the past 5 years (The Girl has been going there since she was 14 months old) and know the staff to be nothing but competent, caring and committed. We love these people like we do family because they ARE family. Our children spend many hours a week in their care and we know and trust them. It goes without saying that they were as upset by the whole incident as we were. I have no doubt that steps will be taken to ensure this never happens again. Our relationship, and my trust in them, is still solid.

But it’s that brief split second between “there was an incident” and “he is okay” that I can’t seem to shake, and which has shaken me. For it is in that brief split second that you come face to face with your worst fear as a parent. It is a brief second that lasts an eternity and replays in your head long after the moment has passed. The moment when you believe that the worst has happened. I know that everything turned out well in the end, and I should focus on that. But still, it will take some time for the power of that split second emotional burst to fade.

Mostly, however, I am feeling gratitude; gratitude that this did have a happy ending, and immense gratitude to the kind strangers who, upon seeing a child in distress, got involved and helped.

Thank you.

7 Anti-princess Princess Books

I am not sure if The Girl is outgrowing her princess phase, but it certainly hasn’t been the focus of her attention in the past little while like it was at one time. That said, they are hard to ignore and Princesses still pop up from time to time. Like Patricia Coppard, we also try to expose The Girl to Princesses who don’t fit into the standard Princess stereotype. But it isn’t easy.

I once went to the public library with my daughter looking for anti-Princess Princess books – the kind with strong female characters who don’t end up living the Prince’s life at the end. I asked the librarian if she could recommend something that was about Princesses, but not the Disney kind. She could not recommend a single book. Even after I prompted her with a “something along the lines of The Paper Bag Princess, perhaps?” she still could not think of a book to recommend. So, after searching around the library ourselves, we finally found The Gypsy Princess about a young gypsy girl named Cinnamon who longs to live a Princess life until she actually gets to and finds it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Man, I wish I had Patricia’s list of recommended books that day because it looks like there are some good ones. So, if you are looking for a few anti-princess princess books, here are a few that she recommends, with a few of mine tossed in.

  1. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch
  2. The Gypsy Princess by Poebe Gilman
  3. Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole
  4. Sleeping Bobby by Will and Mary Pope Osborne
  5. The Princess and the Packet of Frozen Peas by Tony Wilson (Patricia’s personal favourite)
  6. Princesses Are Not Quitters by Kate Lum
  7. Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke.

Care to add to the list? What is your favorite non-princess princess book?