A Change Is As Good As A Rest…Or Not

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Well…the holidays are over, and now it’s time to get back to work for a rest.

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. You see, I have four children and two dogs. I am very clear on the origin of two inventions: rum-laced egg nog, and tranquilizer darts.

The excitement started building around the end of November when my neighbours, darn them, began stringing up Christmas lights. The stores started bustling. The Breakfast With Santa and Santa Claus Parade were held on the first weekend of December.

Given that a month represents a fairly large percentage of a child’s life, that’s an awful lot of lead time for kids. They say young children are like sponges, and this is true: by the time we picked up a tree in mid-December, my kids had absorbed so much excitement that all they could do was run around in circles and yell at the top of their voices for an hour after we got it home.

Decorating a tree with youngsters in the house was also more difficult than I’d anticipated. I think 3.5 seconds elapsed between the time I set down the box of baubles and the time my kids had them all on … all crammed into the same patch of tree space at knee height. My husband and I spent most of the evening hoping that the tree would not suddenly collapse like a bad in-store pickle jar display before they went to bed and we could fix it.

What followed was two weeks of constant repetition. The endless Christmas carols? No. Excessive TV advertising? No. I mean those mantras familiar to all parents:

“Don’t touch.”
“No.”
“I said don’t touch.”
“What did I just say?!”
“Don’t make me come over there!”
“Boy is Santa ever going to hear about this!!!”

It’s not just the kids that feel the strain of having to be on their best behaviour. Knowing as I did what Father Christmas was going to bring, I was keen to see my kids’ reaction to it all, and keeping secrets proved to be tough. Meanwhile, I’ve been after my husband to clean up his language. He works with computers, and it’s been said that you never truly know how to swear until you’ve used a computer. Nagging wasn’t working, so I decided to hit him where it hurt: his chocolate-covered almond stash. The result? A ‘cuss jar’ half-full of the things, but a lot less swearing. Indeed, now when he’s mildly annoyed, he’ll catch himself by saying “almond!” Of course when he’s trodden on stray Lego in bare feet, he has to resort to saying “!@#$–I mean a very large TRUCK full of almonds!”

Yes, the neighbours think we’re eccentric.

It wouldn’t be an Important Event if colds and the ‘flu weren’t involved somehow. Indeed, illness combined with schedule interruptions, and all the special events turned out to be too much excitement to sustain. By the time the 24th rolled around, there were tantrums nearly every five minutes. My kids threw quite a few as well.

All that said, Christmas Day was a joy. There was that kitchen problem mid-morning (You know how in the movies, faucets suddenly blow twenty feet into the air, spewing water everywhere? This, apparently, is not an exaggeration.), but otherwise it went well. My kids’ reactions were every bit as good as I’d hoped and more. We had family over; the meal was a success. My husband and I ended the day with a toast to having pulled it off.

Of course, there is still the aftermath. The 3000 pieces of Lego that need a ‘storage solution.’ The thank you cards. The pine needles, which, like cicadas, burrow into your carpet to hibernate for up to 17 years, emerging only to breed more pine needles. The wrapping paper and boxes to recycle…

Sigh. I think I’ll go have one last egg nog. And another temper tantrum.

Photo credit: SuKd/Pixabay

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Don’t Be So Elfish

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This year, whether you’re preparing for Christmas, or Hanukah or you’re still just recovering from a particularly rambunctious Diwali, spare a thought for the poor unfortunates of the world.

No, no, I don’t mean the homeless and the poor. You’re supposed to be thinking of them anyway, and hopefully, doing something to help out. While you’re at it, however, consider:

The Poinsettia: Coddled all year in a nice warm greenhouse, given special food and water, spritz baths, and manicures. Then, on December 1, tossed on a smelly truck, dumped in the front of a store, and left to shiver in the freezing display racks. If a lucky “red,” purchased and used for a few weeks before being chucked out with the Christmas tree. If a “white” or “pink” or some other designer colour, left to shiver that much longer — until the reds are sold out.

Christmas Cake: Once a cherished tradition, now much maligned. This is thanks to a now-bankrupt bakery in Giggleswick, England that produced a huge but totally inedible batch of fruitcakes back in 1956. Many of these cakes are still in circulation, and are passed from person to person around the globe as “gifts.” The “Reclaim Christmas Baking Society” is attempting to collect these cakes and build a museum to bad baking, using the cakes themselves as bricks.

Radio and TV Announcers: Forced to say things like “Blu-Ray players make great stocking stuffers!” and “Buy your Dad his dream car this year!” without cracking up laughing. Forced to do everything in Christmas Cheer Voice.

Retail Store Clerks: Also known as “associates” and “representatives,” these poor souls have it particularly rough. Not only do they have to provide service at a rate of 452 customers per minute, they have to do so with a smile — even if the bratty three-year-old has just wrecked the stack of Barbie dolls that took an hour to assemble.

Retail Store Cashiers: Even worse than being a clerk is being a cashier. The checkout area is where store managers locate all the “novelties,” like the Singing Fish, the Dancing Hamster, and the Talking Santa. These toys are activated 1567 times a day in extreme cases. Recent studies show that the only people who actually buy these toys are the cashiers themselves, so they can take them out to the parking lot after work and run over them repeatedly with shopping carts.

Department Store Photographers: Ranked the second worst job to have in the retail sector (right after in-store janitor), photographers must hate this time of year. This is because every parent thinks that Christmas is the perfect time of year to buy that set of 54 wallet-sized photos of their child. And how easy do you think it is to make a toddler smile when he’s just been whisked through the “Our Toy Selection is Huge!” display and told he can’t touch?

The Elves: Santa gets milk and cookies. The reindeer often get carrots. The elves get nada — they have to stay home at the North Pole, freezing their little elvish tushes off. They spend Christmas slumped over cups of lukewarm cocoa, exhausted by a full year’s toy-making labour, while the delivery team gets all the credit and glory.

So this year, take a moment or two to make things better for others. Buy a nice warm blanket for the local poinsettia display. Don’t push the “Press Me! I Sing!” button on the Scooby Doo Santa toy at the store. And leave a box of take-out food for Santa to take back to the elves. A nice, hot curry, perhaps.

Happy Holidays.

Photo credit: Stevepb / Pixabay

Ho, Ho and Please, No

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Ah, Christmas. That wonderful time of year set aside for best wishes, good cheer and brawls at the local Walmart.

I am not a fan of shopping, so I certainly do not understand why anyone would be prepared to get up at 4 a.m., line up in the freezing cold and then fight 300 other people just to be first through the door at a store. I can think of far more fun ways to lose my front teeth — playing hockey, for example.

I especially don’t understand the furor, given what’s usually being flogged off. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the things I’ve spotted for sale over the years:

Playmobil Hazard Crew — This toy, presumably intended for children, comes complete with two little figurines dressed in Hazmat suits, a road barricade and a cute little barrel of toxic waste. I wonder what you’d put on the tag for this gift? “Dear Junior: Here is a lasting reminder of the environmental legacy I plan to leave for you. Love, Mom.”

McDonald’s Toy Cash Register — This kit includes a cash register, play money, plastic food (!) and a headset for play drive-through service. Nothing like feeling your parents have set low career goals for you early on.

Doggy Doo Christmas Ornaments — Yes, really. Little tree ornaments shaped like piles of dog mess. Do people send these things to neighbours they hate? To dog owners as a reminder to stop and scoop? Or do they decorate their own trees with it? Note to self: do not read catalogue any further to find out which overall decorating theme this is supposed to fit into.

Secret Can Safe — These are packages made to look just like the cans of kitchen cleaner we buy at the store, only they’re empty. You’re meant to hide your money and valuables in them, as demonstrated by the pictures of cans stuffed full of money, pearls, and rubies. I’m sure anyone who has a pile of rubies will gladly pay $5.95 for a replica can, because it has ever so many more security features than the $2.99 version you can get from your grocery store.

Opoly — Monopoly sales last year must have been disappointing. I say this because I have am seen countless new versions of the game, perhaps offered in a bid to revive the franchise. There’s Catopoly (purrfect your strategy), Dogopoly (go directly to jail, do not paws at Go), U.S. Marines-opoly (storm the luxury beachfront properties), NFL-opoly (take a punt on a punt), Simpsons-opoly (Doh!), and Bible-opoly (presumably an usury free version of the game). And because no trend will leave another unturned, there also is Texas Hold ‘Em-opoly.

Yoda Bobblehead — I often wonder what the factory workers in China, where most things are manufactured these days, must think of Western society. When I see things like Yoda bobbleheads, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know.

Giant Poseable Cockroach — For that hard-to-buy-for person on your list who already has a small, non-poseable cockroach.

Secret Water Bottle Safe — This is for those discerning homeowners with piles of diamonds as well as rubies. The safe is a plastic water bottle with a secret compartment hidden behind its fake label. You can even fill the top of the bottle with water to “complete the deception.” It will work fine until your fitness-happy neighbour stops by after a jog and helps himself to a cold drink from your fridge.

Edible Body Deodorant — I. Am. So. Not. Going. There.

Cell Phone Voice Changer — A small device that changes your voice as you talk into your cell phone. This is so when you crash your car into a telephone pole, the EMS personnel can look into your car and say, “No Fred, this isn’t our call out. We’re looking for a male about 53 and this is a woman of about 28.”

My advice? Stick to giving out Christmas cakes. They are statement-neutral, usually taste good, and are biodegradable and recyclable. And if you let one go stale, it makes an excellent weapon for defending that stash of precious gemstones in the fridge.

 

(Not) In The Pink

English: Shelves with pink girls toys, Canada 2011

Gee, which aisle am I in? It’s so hard to tell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In general, I am not an Angelina Jolie fan. I see her face far too often in the tabloids at the grocery store checkout, and usually the news about her has been, well, weird.

One Jolie headline, however, raised my estimation of her a notch.

Supposedly, she offended her in-laws by refusing to dress a daughter in the pink clothes they bought. I’m not advocating offending your in-laws (this will only come back to bite you at Christmas), but I’m glad to see someone else striking a blow against the The Pink Conspiracy (TPC).

I’ve been aware of TPC for some time now, but have only just worked out how big it is, as I have children to shop for.

Let’s start with children’s clothing. Early on, you have a choice of blue, green, or even white sleepers for a newborn son. For your newborn daughter? You have a choice between pink, light pink, and lighter pink. Frankly, I’m not sure why manufacturers bother wasting dye on newborn clothing — making them all spit-up coloured would be far more practical.

Fast forward a year and the boy’s range expands to include red, khaki, tan, plaid, brown, black, and even dark purple. On the girl’s side of the rack, there’s still pink, light pink, and lighter pink. Oh yes and the odd pair of blue jeans, but these must include: A) pink stitching, B) embroidered flowers, C) embroidered hearts, or D) all of the above. Also rainbows and unicorns.

The girl’s clothes are also decorated … with bows, frills, ruffles, beads, ribbons and sequins. I think this explains why all the great masters of painting throughout the ages have been male. Mothers have been too busy hand washing their daughters’ togs to have time to learn the art; girls avoided it because oils and acrylics really mess up good beadwork.

Toy stores are just as bad. In the boys section, you have cool things like Lego, and action figures, train sets, and athletic equipment. A boy will, from an early age, gain an intuitive understanding of building and engineering principles, geometry, motion and systems design. And possibly light sabres.

In the girls section, you will find dolls, tea sets, miniature appliances like vacuum cleaners, and makeup and hair care kits. A girl will, from an early age, gain an intuitive understanding of … housework. Of course, all of these toys will be various shades of pink. Unless they’re intended for the 9-11 year old set, in which case they will be pink *and* sprinkled with glitter.

It’s around this age that researchers begin testing boys and girls to see what cognitive differences there are between the sexes. Most will point to the results — which show boys scoring higher in math and science — as proof that males are biologically hardwired to be better at them. I figure that girls have the same abilities at birth, we’ve just had our fuses blown by too much exposure to pink. Seriously — try walking down the Barbie aisle of your local department store without sunglasses, and see what it does for your retina.

TPC carries on into the teenage years and adulthood, only by this time clothing and makeup (the only toys left for women) come in a wider variety of colours, such as coral, rose, peach, salmon, blush, carnation, and fuchsia. Progressive retailers, hoping to compensate for, um, biology, attempt to design “female friendly” products, such as pink computers, pink cars, and even pink power tools. The most common element in the universe is supposed to be hydrogen, but given the seemingly limitless supply of the stuff, I think it really must be pink dye.

In many ways, The Pink Conspiracy is just as restrictive as corsets and foot binding, just more subtle. It’s still all about being dainty and gentle, dreamy and perhaps even vapid.

Of course there’s one sure fire way to halt TPC — and that’s if all of us moms stopped buying pink things for our daughters.

And if that ever happens, I’ll be tickled, well, you know… pink.

 

Pink’d

Pink!

Must we apply it to everything? (Photo credit: fabrice79)

You’ll have to forgive me if there are a lot of typos in this week’s column. I’m suffering from severe retinal burnout.

It happened about a week ago. I had just received the Christmas catalogue, and since I have wee ones to shop for, I went straight for the toy pages. And suddenly, without warning, I came to the “girls’ section.”

How did I know it was the girls’ section? Because it was absolutely ablaze with pink. There were pink dolls. There were pink clothes. There was pink print and even the page was pink. I had no idea there were that many variations of a single colour. I expect the catalogue printer went stark raving mad on this project, having to pour pot after pot of Fuchsia Temptation, Crafty Carnation, and Potted Petunia #3 into the press.

After I’d stopped writhing around on the floor, screaming “My eyes! My eyes!” I had another look through the catalogue. I was prepared to forgive the retailer (which I don’t want to name in this space, so we’ll call it Shears) that one lapse into bad stereotypes.

This is, after all, the 21st century. Surely my children could look forward to way cooler toys than I had? Robots and holograms and computer games? So I kept turning pages. The girls were shown with … kitchen sets. Sewing machines. And… baby dolls with strollers. The boys were shown with power tools. Cars and trucks. And in one amazingly bold bit of gender crossover, one piece of cookware — yes, wait for it — a toy barbecue.

Waa. Hoo.

I know what you’re thinking: here she goes with some feminist rant pointing out that we’ve had female prime ministers, space shuttle pilots and national security advisors, and that our girl toys need to be updated accordingly. But no, smug reader, I’m not, because 1) I have three sons, and so actually I’m more concerned about what this does for them and 2) I snuck in those points just a minute ago and now don’t have to resort to a rant. So, ha.

Am I worried about the effect that pink catalogue pages will have on my sons? Well no, although I do plan to hand them sunglasses before they open the catalogue, just as a safety precaution. I worry because the gender thing doesn’t stop there.

We now have girl drinks — usually refined cocktails, and usually pink, and boy drinks — cheap beer by the keg full. There are men’s razors and women’s razors, because clearly the colour of the handle makes a tremendous difference as to how close a shave you get.

Movies are classified as either “chick flicks” or um, “Richard flicks.” Chick flicks are those that have dialogue, emotion and possibly even complex plots. The other kind involves cars and trucks, and things blowing up. We’ve even had a men’s movie star recently call people of a certain political persuasion in the US “girlie men.”

All this means that my sons are going to grow up in a world where the media image of the ideal man depicts someone who only understands power tools, and loud explosions —

the kind you make with dynamite, or the kind you make after drinking a lot of beer. So I’m thinking… getting them to apply themselves in English class might be a bit of a struggle. Heck, even math class might be hard work.

Needless to say, I won’t be buying from this catalogue any time soon. I want toys that will make them think, make them use their imagination, that will prepare them for gender equality and life in the 21st century, and of course most important of all, that I can play with too. Er, just to make sure they’re okay of course.

And meantime, I’ll tell my sons: if men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, it’s because we’ve worked very hard to put them there.

I’m just not sure why.