29 March 2009

Gauging Winners and Losers in the Ultimate Power Struggle

When we returned home after our first ever family-out-of-the-country vacation in January, the whole family was out of sorts. Easing back into the daily routine was challenging for all, especially given the changing nature of each day being exacerbated by snow storms and the transit strike.

On a particularly horrific morning, Bubaloo and I butted heads. He wasn’t listening, wasn’t getting ready and was going to miss his school bus. The very bus that had been giving me a daily headache due erratic pick up times which often made me very late to work.

It was the last request that led to this disaster. I asked him to do something simple like brush his teeth. I asked him again. Then I asked him again. And again. And again.

He was in a state by the time he got to the bathroom. When I came up the stairs behind him, only moments later, he had LOCKED himself in there. Normally I would have gone straight to lock picking, but that very child on the other side of the door had broken the lock by jamming it with a piece of plastic a month earlier, and we hadn’t got around to fixing it yet. The only option left in my arsenal of parenting skills was reasoning.

Things were already heated. My patience had already evaporated under the exercise of my temper. This was the power struggle of all power struggles – I wasn’t going to lose. The kid was about to miss his bus, which would result in me having to drive him to school, which would add an hour on to my commute making me even later than I was going to be initially.

I knocked on the door and asked him to open it. Silence. I asked again. Silence. I then pounded on the door and threatened him. Silence. I then pounded on the door and pleaded with him. Silence.

Quickly my mood went from pissed off to terrified. The child who had locked himself in the bathroom was the same child who had lit a toilet paper on fire in the bathroom a few months earlier. He was angry and frustrated and silent. Possibly up to no good. All I could visualize was the possibility of my burning house.

I panicked and issued an ultimatum. I told him if he wasn’t out of the bathroom by the time I counted to 5, I was coming in there. I told him I was going to kick down the door.

Slowly I began to count. 1. Silence. 2. Silence. 3. Silence. 4. Silence. 4 ½. Silence. 4 ¾. Silence. 5. The door was still closed. So I “Chuck Norris-ed” it.

With one deft, cleanly placed, martial arts inspired kick that door was open and the kid flew off the toilet and out of the bathroom. I banished the child to his room.

I was so angry by this time. Simmering. But I was also triumphant because I did not lose that power struggle. I was also pretty amazed that I kicked that door open so easily. I was slightly impressed and in awe of this untapped skills. Then, I looked at the door and felt a twinge of regret. Wifey was going to be pissed.

I called her to fill her in on the situation and she came home immediately. School and work were out of the question for both Bubaloo and myself. We needed to resolve this conflict.

Wifey came home and was angry. She was mad about the door. Mad about being called home from work. Mad about Bubaloo’s poor choices. Mine too, apparently. She admonished us both.

She called a family meeting and wasted no time in mediating a resolution to this issue. The door would need to be replaced, and Bubaloo and I would be responsible for that. We’d have to go to Home Depot to get another one and we’d have to split the cost 50/50. With a job that pays slightly more than $5 allowance per week, I got the better end of the deal, or at least I thought so until I got entangled in sorting out the ensuing complications.

It took three trips to order the door.

On the first trip we discovered that we’d need to order a custom door as our 76 inch frame was much shorter than the standard 80 inches. We went back a week later with the measurements, only to be told by a different salesperson that a custom door requires more measurement than the length and the height of the door. He sent us home with a worksheet. On the third time we went back, we finally had the information we needed to place the order, and after 45 minutes of dealing with a very nice but not so computer savvy gentleman, we had finally placed our order.

The new door arrived last weekend and today I set aside some to work with Bubaloo to install and paint it.

We went to put the hinges on the new door and they had milled it incorrectly. We grabbed a chisel from the garage and quickly chipped away at it to make it work.

When we hung the door, we noticed another issue. While we knew the frame wasn’t square, it became evident how unsquare the frame was. While the door is 5mm from the frame by the hinges, on the handle side, it’s much sorter. A ½ inch much more noticeably shorter.

Then, because the door is no longer square, it wouldn’t actually close with the handle into the lock hole. We had to chisel a new one of those, too.

Four hours later plus another five where I decided to repaint all the trim upstairs because the can of paint was already open, the door is painted and the hardware installed. It sort of closes. It just needs a little extra firm push.

When I reflect back upon this, the 3 month process to get and install the door, plus the back and forth to Home Depot, I’ve learned some pretty valuable lessons.

  1. I will replace doorknobs with broken locks as soon as they break. It’s worth the $25 cost and 30 minutes of my time (plus another 10 minutes to find the screwdriver that no one claims to have taken from the toolbox).
  2. Always know whether or not you have custom doors before you decide to let your alter martial arts personality loose.
  3. Call Home Depot and let them know about the crappy mill work and numerous trips just to order the stupid door and they’ll cover the cost of the door for you.
  4. Think about it, if only for 5 more seconds, before you ever utter the words “I’ll kick down that door if you don’t...”
  5. When you’re in the midst of door replacement suckage, and you’re about to lose your cool in frustration, just abide by the mantra “It was so worth it to win that power struggle, because if I hadn’t I’m sure I’d have to be fixing other little disasters because my kid wouldn’t have counted on me to follow through.”
  6. Always, always, always win a power struggle. No matter the cost. As the grown up, however, you should probably be a little bit smarter (i.e., quickly mentally evaluation the financial, time, spousal and pain-in-my-ass cost) about which situations you make into power struggles.

25 March 2009

A Lesson in Positive Reinforcement

The kids were sitting at the table tonight after dinner mowing down on cookies. The very cookies I spent most of my day dreaming about and secretly demolished two right before dinner. With this treat, Bella pulled out her homework.

Bubaloo: Whatcha workin' on?

Bella: A poster.

Bubaloo leans across the table to get a real good look at what she's working on.

Bubaloo: Is that a REAL poster for the army?

Bella: No, it's a fake poster. It's for a war a long time ago. The war of 1812.

Bella proceeded to read the copy she drafted inviting men to sign up as soldiers, "Join the Army and Come to Tom's Tavern."

Bella: I put that there because I thought 'army' rhymed with 'tavern.'

Bubaloo: Army. Tavern. Um, those don't rhyme. ...But good effort!

21 March 2009

My Kids Love Me


One perk of adopting older kids, at least when they write on the furniture they don't use marker. This made my heart melt.

20 March 2009

Crimes of a 13-Year-Old and Her Adoptive Mother

I spoke too soon. All is not well in the portion of the humpty dumpty house that is occupied by the 13-year-old. The same goes for any part of the house that I have to occupy alongside her.

This week Bella has had the luxury of attending a week-long program at a local art school. With this great freedom have come copious opportunities to make poor decisions.

Here’s a short list of her (irritating) crimes:
  1. Getting some kid to buy her candy and then not being able to pay her back
  2. Getting me to give her an advance on her allowance to pay back the kid
  3. “Losing” the allowance advance money on the way to art school less than 10 minutes after getting it
  4. Then borrowing money from the art school’s receptionist (who thankfully happens to be a good friend) to give to the other kid
  5. Confessing to #3 & 4 when getting caught on the items below, but with no intention of paying back the receptionist
  6. Biting into an apple (against the requirements of her recent dental surgery) and breaking one of the dental chains (for the second time in less than two weeks)
  7. Taking an enormous box of granola bars to give to her art school “friends” leaving nothing else for anyone who resides in the household
  8. Leaving art school at lunch to wander around the market and being late to return to class in the afternoon
  9. Everything else she hasn’t been busted for yet
I hate lying. I hate dishonesty. I hate that I have to spend all this time dealing with this kid on stupid stuff. I hate that all this stupid stuff is totally able to get my blood boiling. And, I hate that all this stuff makes me like her less than I already do and it’s not like her likability was all that high to begin with.

This is the crux of our attachment issue. We haven’t attached to Bella and she really hasn’t attached to us. She’s nearly 14.

We spend all this time trying to make it work, and I worry that it just won’t. We spend a lot of time worrying and wondering if what’s broken can even be fixed.

I worry that we may want to begin actual work on the Maybe Baby next year and I’m terrified that we could face the same issues with another kid. I’m resentful because the Maybe Baby may never be part of the plan because we may not have the space, food, money to have another kid as what I need to have a Maybe Baby I have to spend on this kid that I’m not all that crazy about. You can’t trade up or out on kids. But this totally isn’t what I thought I was getting into.

I feel awful and guilty about this all the time which really can’t be helping whatever attempts I make at bonding with the kid I already have. I’m consumed by this day in and day out. It’s horrible.

19 March 2009

Four Weeks Into Career #2

Life is great. I can’t really complain. I guess this means I don’t have much to say as I’m not tormented or desperately searching for amusement in my kids’ antics.

I started a new job five weeks ago. I spent the first four weeks actively seeking not to pass judgement on whether or not I liked it. I may have, this past Friday, mentally muttered something to myself about this job being a great fit. The weather was balmy. My Friday afternoon consisted of a staff team lunch and then being given the rest of the afternoon off so I could pursue my shopping hobby (seriously, living in this insulated city is great because what global economic slowdown are you talking about? We’re pissing money/investing too much in our house/kids’ teeth right now).

This is the most relaxed place I have ever worked. I feel valued as a staff member. This value is manifested in both what I can contribute to shaping the growth of this start-up not-for-profit and in the size of my biweekly pay cheque. While I’m at the low end of the salary range for a fundraiser, this is the first time in years that I feel adequately paid as an employee in this sector.

We have an awesome mission, no shortage of challenges, and it’s not a daily battle with red tape. The other big occupational perk is that I get to wear jeans every day to the office. Comfortable pants make me want to work.

After the weekend, however, I returned to the office slightly deluded and cursing the productivity of my colleagues.

I think I’m the only one who has actually done something of tangible significance during the past 4 weeks that will contribute to the future success of the organization - output as known as "ensuring that we all have jobs next April."

Four grant applications, two of those being major ones. An operating budget and annual activity plan. Serious progression on Board committee development. New website in development talks. Celebrating my rockstarness, I accomplished all of the above while I had a week-long flu and I haven’t actually really had an official orientation session yet.

The thing that is the source of this irritation is that I haven’t seen any output from my boss. Well, to be fair, she did do her dishes for the first time before she left today. And it may be because her brother has been incredibly sick in the ICU and skirting a terminal diagnosis which has totally left her understandably drained, exhausted and distracted. What I’m not sure yet, and trying to hold off passing judgement on, is aside from this illness would it actually be any different? I’m either a bad person for asking this question or undeniably intuitive and realistically setting my self up for disappointment.

I think at the root of this may also be a clash in working styles of type A and type B personalities. Anal retentive, high-achiever meets organic, uber-relaxed thinker and actor. It’s good to write this because I remember again why I choose to take with job and work with this person – we’re yin and yang – and in this will create leadership balance that will hopefully thrust this organization to success.

10 March 2009

Down With the Greenhouses

Tonight at the dinner table Bubaloo was on a comedian kick. Unintentionally comedic, albeit quite funny.

"Nay with the greenhouse gases!!!" he extolled.

"Yay for those who destroy greenhouses!!!!!"

This makes you think about how we, as adults, name things and how kids use this to make sense of the world.

All I can imagine is my little boy wearing big ole rubber boots with a hammer running around the neighbourhood threatening to destroy the evil, bad, polluting greenhouses.

We clarified the metaphor for him, but he still seemed a little confused and couldn't quite comprehend how the earth's atmosphere is similar to that of a greenhouse.

08 March 2009

Brother and Sister Love Story Meets Battlestar Galactica

When Bella and Bubaloo first moved in with us, they were children who didn’t know how to self entertain.

Coming from a foster family where there were 3 bio kids in addition to the 5 other kids who frequented the home-based daycare, the house was constantly filled with people. It was a house where the TV was always blaring and there was someone always around. The family had each of their children enrolled in an uncountable number activities, topped off with regularly scheduled family outings, so Bella and Bubaloo often spent much of their time in the family van being shuttled back and forth from one thing to the next and waiting in the van for any given activity to end while being amused by a DVD entertainment system.

When they moved in with us they experienced an immediate culture shock. Saturdays weren’t planned out weeks in advance. There wasn’t a constant influx of entertainment, outings and activities. It wasn’t go, go, go. It wasn’t one thing after another. Both kids were beside themselves and didn’t know what to do. It was also quite surprising that as kids they were quite lacking in the imagination department.

Then one day they dreamed up The Game. Although, it wasn’t called the The Game at this time.

As Bella and Bubaloo began to discover one another as siblings and playmates, they did this through pretend play that can be likened to a verbal rendition of Chinese Letters. Instead of creating a story line by line on paper, they would sit for hours constructing elaborate narratives alternating weaving a shared tale. This wasn’t an action-oriented game. It was totally verbal with the kids sitting across from one another.

One munchkin starts with an idea, and the other builds on to it with their own idea. The idea can only be one sentence long. It also has to be linked to the previous idea by the phrase, “And then...”

In action, it might sound something like this. “And then, they were on a pirate ship searching for gold. And then, out at sea there was suddenly a big storm. And then, the boat was tossing in the water. And then, it began to fill up with water because the pirates had sailed too close to the shore and hit a rock.”

In the early days, this was very secretive. It was as if they were almost embarrassed about the discovery of this new imaginary world. They wouldn’t play within earshot of the grown-ups. And they liked to play behind closed doors.

Before we knew what it was they were playing, and how it was played, we inquired as to what they were talking about all the time. Bella responded, “We’re playing a game Brother and Sister Love Story.”

Before I jumped completely to conclusions, but already half-way there, I asked her to share a little bit more about what this was. “Well,” said Bella, “it’s about a brother and sister who live in a far away land and have adventures on pirate ships and slay lots of dragons.”

There’s nothing inappropriate about that, so I had to ask why it was called Brother and Sister Love Story. There was a big piece missing here.

“Because it’s about a brother and sister who love one another.” Simple. Matter of fact. Appropriate. Since we explained to the munchkins how Brother and Sister Love Story didn’t really best describe what they were playing, we suggested they come up with a different name. This is when The Game was born.

The kids love The Game and it’s become a staple of how they play together. Now that they’re 11 and 13 it hasn’t died down one bit. They don’t have marathon 4 hour sessions any more, and The Game is leading to more sibling squabbles, but they love it and play it all the time.

This morning, I came down to get a cup of coffee and they were at the kitchen table eating their breakfasts while playing The Game. Fully engrossed they didn’t even notice or acknowledge me. That’s when I my ear latched on to the phrase, “Battlestar Galactica.”

A few weeks ago, when the adults were down for the count with the flu, we actually let them watch lots of TV/movies and in a moment of delirium we allowed them to watch this show. I love Battlestar Galactica because it’s such a brilliant and intelligent show, but the sex and killing in the later seasons doesn’t really quite make it kid-friendly. They only watched the initial mini-series, but they’re completely hooked. They're fascinated by humans creating machines and space travel. They ask to watch it all the time and we keep on finding ways to distract them.

I hadn’t heard anything about Battlestar Galactica for a few weeks, so I thought interest had finally waned. Waned it has not. It’s just completely permeated their play.

01 March 2009

Exactly What It Looks Like

This is exactly what it looks like. A jar full of socks. A jar full of stinky boy socks. A jar full of hopeful Guinness Book of World Record stinky socks. Almost.

Without letting the family in on his challenge, Bubaloo decided to beat a world record for stinky socks. He made it three weeks wearing the same pair of socks before he got busted.

I don't know why it took us that long to catch on, but even three days after we kept on smelling an odd funky smell, we couldn't quite figure out where it was coming from. When we finally figured out it was coming from Bubaloo, we asked him to shower. But he came out of the shower and was still stinky.

That's when I spotted the dankness of his socks. Which compelled me to inquire if he had changed them post-shower. He let me know he had changed his socks. I then re-phrased my question to inquire if he had put on clean socks after his shower. He hadn't. He had changed back into the pair he had been wearing that day. The very pair he had been wearing for the last three weeks!!!

I finally wrestled the horrid stinky socks off his feet and was about to toss them into the laundry bin. But he pleaded and implored with me not to ruin all his efforts with a touch of detergent. He was determined to be in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Instead, we came to a compromise. He could keep the socks but he'd have to promise never to wear them again. He'd have to put them in a jar so that no one in the house would ever have to be subjected to the smell of the putrid socks again.

Since that time more socks have been added to the jar. Whenever he manages to make another pair stinky, but not quite as stinky as the initial offending pair, into the jar they go. Occasionally he walks around the house with his stinky sock collection in hand and beams. We've also caught him from time-to-time unscrewing the lid of the jar to take a whiff just to ensure that the stocks haven't lost any of their stink.