Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dear Luxembourg

I miss you.

Miss you miss you miss you.

The weather here is grey and rainy today. Feels like I should be able to walk in to town to Table du Pain and have a Lait Russe (I had one in the comfort of my own home thanks to the coffee machine from heaven, but it's just not the same).

Stu picked out - by chance - the movie George and the Dragon this weekend (I actually have yet to finish it) and there are scenes in the castle that made me think "That looks like Vianden Castle" and then thought how ridiculous that was. Only it wasn't, because sure enough at the end of the movie some of it has been shot in Luxembourg. And the interview with James Purefoy has a beautiful shot of the castle behind him. Marc and I both sighed, knowing exactly where he was standing. The last time we were there was with Catherine, Neil and their boys and it was a perfect day. (and I still need to send her the photos... ooops!)

It's been a lot of little things lately. My friend Anneli sent us the poster from this year's Schueberfouer, since it was the first year we were missing it. The last day we were in Luxembourg we went to the Schueberfouer with friends. The poster was such a sweet gesture, one that made me feel very homesick.

Ridiculous things like having to have my first physical here - I had no idea if I had to disrobe, fought with the paper gown they gave me. It was fine, but I have been to Dr. S for so many years that it felt so... weird.

I try not to talk about how much I miss Luxembourg. I honestly didn't expect coming home to be this hard. I love being here, being near family, having a great support network... but I still have moments where I wonder what we did moving home. Canada was always going to be here, but Luxembourg is no longer an option for us.

I decided that I would like to make Boxemännercher for Klee'schen this year (the 6th of December when Saint-Nicholas - called Klee'schen comes). I found a site with several Luxembourgish recipes. Just reading the word Gromperekichelcher (potato fritters) made me long for the Place d'Armes and the little butcher shop that used to sell them with compote (apple sauce). I even miss the Mousel Cantine... oh and the Pyg... and Pucci's... and the Bistro down the road... and Swagat... and and and... And that's just the food. I won't even go on about the people I miss.

I have no clue where I am going with this post. I don't suppose there is much to make me miss Luxembourg less. And maybe that's okay. But today it is making me feel a little blue.

But I think I will be making Boxemännercher this year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh the guilt

Marc has been gone for going on 7 nights now. (yes, another Marc-is-away-I-can't-deal-with-the-kids post. I'm tired of them too. Sigh).

We haven't done too badly all in all. Considering that both kids (and me too) were sick when he left and the kids still are. We're working through entry to JK (not going so well? who knows? She sure is acting up) and the return of what I will politely refer to as Homework Hell.

Both kids have been pushing buttons for the last few days. They want their dad, I understand. My painting marathon in the basement with our friend J last week didn't help. I get it. It didn't really help me either, but we now have an area of the basement that is finished and - after a long month without - a television set up.

Stu is vacillating between acting grown up and understanding a few things (his favourite words these days seem to be "I see your point") and outright "let's see how long it takes for her to blow" button pushing. He's fresher than wet paint some days. And as clingy as a toddler.

I am not fond of the parenting I have done tonight - the no nonsense voice, the forced do-over of some homework he really did poorly, the taking away of his books finally when I was putting Julia down and instead of memorizing his "comptine" he was doing some kind of acrobatics that had the light fixtures in the den shaking. I feel like a big meanie, cold and distant, speaking in a monotone and emotionless voice telling him what is and isn't acceptable.

The alternative? Shouting at him, which I am really trying hard not to do. Telling him how sleeping with him and his sister has left me exhausted to the point where I could sit down and cry. As these are not appropriate options I go into Robo-Mom. I hate it.

His room is a disaster. My mother was here last week and cleaned it up for him. Seriously, she did. And it's as bad today. Last week she talked to him about what would happen if he kept it like that. He said Mum would get a garbage bag and toss stuff. But (he whispered confidentially) Mum won't really do that - she just says she will.

I decided that tomorrow was the day, I was going to clean anything on the floor out. I didn't warn him - apparently I am full of empty threats.

So what is he doing now? Without being asked? Cleaning his room. I can't see any progress to be honest, but there's lots of noise. He's asking me to go up and sit with him. I can tell he's overwhelmed (you would be too by the mess) but I don't think I should go up there just now. I am giving him 5 more minutes and it's bedtime.

See - I have to stop doing all this for him. Because he's not learning. And it's not doing either of us any good. I fear I am in the early stages of helicopter parenting.

But the guilt I feel at not helping when he is overwhelmed... the guilt at the thought of him trying to clean up when I am intending to confiscate the toys tomorrow... UGH.

Who knew parenting would be so much fun.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

off the top of my head...

Since I am so scattered these days...

Dear father of two beautiful little girls who couldn't have been more than 3 and 5 years old,

I try not to judge other people's parenting. Really, I try. And it's great to spend time with your girls. Movies are great. However I don't think that Batman the Dark Knight was quite the film for them. When the big one pulled her coat over her head and wouldn't come out? When the little one curled up in your lap, hid her face and was shaking? SIGNS THAT YOU SHOULD LEAVE.
Good luck with all the nightmares they will have in the next little while. You're welcome that I managed not to come over and ask if you were in your right mind (which I probably would have done if I hadn't had to keep hiding with my head between my knees, fingers in ears loudly chewing M&M's in order to drown out scary bits. Yes, I am a wuss.)

the woman at the end of the row glaring at you

Dear (Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs) Junior Kindergarten Teacher,

I am glad to see that you are taking Kindergarten seriously. But um - maybe a bit too seriously? It's Kindergarten, not Boot Camp. It's supposed to be FUN. Just in case you aren't aware, the kids are 3 and 4 years old. Sitting still for extended periods of time is not easy for them. Standing in a perfect line is not easy for them. Glue sticks? Also not so easy. Snack? Pretty important, let's not have it as a random variable in the morning equation (in case you hadn't heard, the rest of the school has moved to a balanced school day in order to make sure the kids are eating more often to help them learn).
As for your subtle (as a brick through a window) requests for volunteers in the class... really, parents who work aren't going to suddenly have time to volunteer because you make them feel guilty. Parents who do volunteer don't need to be given 7000 tasks at once. Your statements that you need at least 2 mothers a morning in the class room or you can't cope make us nervous.

Parent Volunteer #4 (the one who will undoubtedly smell like Irish Coffee on Tuesday mornings when she is at school)

Dear Cans of Paint in my Basement,

Can we strike a deal? Can you manage to get yourself up on the walls? Because- while I am blessed to have a friend who is determined to get the basement finished before Marc gets back and I am very thankful for said friend - I am tired. Tired tired tired of this house and it not being finished.
So let's try and pitch in okay?

the woman covered in paint

And now I must go. Because Julia is shrieking at Stu. And there is homework to be done. Homework, the joy of homework.

Friday, September 12, 2008

what to call it

I've had a post kicking around all week about how Julia was starting Kindergarten today. She had her first (and only) day of staggered entry and will start going every morning with a full class on Monday.

Somehow I didn't manage to put into words how I feel about her going. There's a certain amount of "I can't believe my BABY is this big!" to conversations involving whether or not we should try for number 3 because suddenly Julia seems so big. (Conversations is overstated. It's more me saying "Maybe we should have another baby." and Marc looking at me in abject terror before putting his hand to my forehead to see if I am feverish).

All in all it went pretty well. She asked that I drive her rather than going on the bus. She stayed by my side in the playground but seemed to want to play (bad bad mother that I am, I was chatting with the other parents I know, the guilt, I should have been right by her side). She went in quietly and easily, gave me a big kiss. Neither of us cried.

I distracted myself with a call to Stu's godmother who I don't talk to often enough. And my friend (our ex-neighbour) who's daughter will be in the same class (her daughter went yesterday and we had lunch with them afterwards). And then I went to get her (at 10:45 as instructed, only to be told by the Senior Kindergarten mothers that our teachers is out to lunch telling us that the bus comes at 10:45 so we have to be out there waiting at that time instead of at 11:00. 15 minutes in the pouring rain felt long this morning).

We'd done lots of little things this week to get ready for school. Made play dough for the class. Labelled all her things together. Practised putting on her knapsack. Got her snack box ready. On Wednesday we gave her and M (the ex-neighbour daughter) a Hello Kitty necklace that breaks in two and says Best Friends - 1/2 each for them going to kindergarten.

This morning she was up EARLY. And my child who routinely claims she can't get dressed herself managed (without being asked) to get herself dressed and her hair brushed (a small miracle. really). She's been missing nursery school. She was pumped to go.

So when she came out at 11:00 I wasn't quite ready for her little face to pucker, tears barely being held back. Apparently she did really well until about 10 minutes before the end of class, when suddenly she wasn't willing to do high fives and announced "I miss Mama!"

She claims she's not going back. That it was great, that she had a good time, she made a colourful raincloud, they learned French words she already knew (part of the 20 minutes a day of French)... it all comes out in a jumble. That snack was too fast. That she liked it but she misses Mama too much.

I wasn't expecting this from her, my second child, my independent young lady. The one who has so rarely cried when I leave somewhere.

There is no doubt that by Monday she will be raring to go. M will be there on Monday and she's so excited. But for today? It was nice to hear that she missed me.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Happy Bunny - one smart rabbit

Friday night Marc finally found the end of his rope and saw red about the contractor who seems to think he's being invited to join our family and move on in permanently.

Actually his helper - a 50-something man who wear shorts and muscle shirts and has been asking me to adopt him for several weeks now. Shudder with me people, shudder.

Anyhow! That is neither here nor there. Marc lost his patience - lost it I tell you. Those of you who have met Marc know that Marc losing his patience is not an every day thing (as opposed to his wife who can, at will, lose her patience every 10 minutes if required).

He came home from work, we talked about the deck - which looks amazing. The guy was so much much much better on Friday when he arrived - after Marc had gone out at 7 am to sort through the debris and clear it up a bit. He was quite civilized and proceeded to build the frame and the whole deck including 3 stairs by 4 pm. A 17'x 10' deck.

I don't know if it was the beauty of the deck or the heady aroma of cedar or the mere fact that someone got a job finished in our house, but when he went to have a look at our basement (he hadn't been down the night before - you know, what with me pitching a hissy/threatening bodily harm to the next contractor I saw when he walked in at 9:20 after a meeting with a client, ) he lost it.

There is absolutely no way at the pace that they are working (using term loosely) that they will be done that basement in one day. Or even one week.

He was threatening to fire him as he left for hockey. And when he came home later (much later) he told me that he'd put a stop payment on the last cheque we gave him. Woah.

I don't think the 6 or 7 unfinished coffees that had become science projects helped. They were all over the place (I foolishly presumed they were empty and I was still not pleased)

Today Marc the called contractor and left a message (when the only number we have - a cell number) saying that he is fired. We're not happy with how long he's taking to finish things or with the quality (my grout that needs to be re-done. Ugh.) and that he is being a slob in our house. To please come with is trailer tomorrow morning to pick up his stuff and that there was no need to re-enter our house.

And then we cleaned all his "stuff" out of our basement. And holy cow, there is so much room down there!!! He had about 6 huge boxes of garbage - end cuts of wood, more coffee cups, bits of insulation and who knows what else. We swept and then cleaned out room in the garage to put all his crap near the door.

I have a Happy Bunny calendar for 2008. I am a big Happy Bunny fan. And I haven't got my calendar up yet since I haven't had a kitchen that has been finished, so I hadn't seen September yet. So when I was checking out dates for Thanksgiving and flipped open to September, I howled as I read:

"Time to go now, gross people. You know who you are."

Happy Bunny prophecies? Could be.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A First World problem or why I need to go to Home Depot U

The contractor that was supposed to be out of our house in 3 weeks is still here. We've just completed week 9 (YES! 9!!!) of his work on the house. On Monday we told him that we are completely and totally out of money (he's cost more than double the quote, all due to small additions we made to the work order that were only supposed to be one day things...) and that we could not pay him after today.

So what is happening? He's back on Monday. I am serious. We stood there and told him that we are out of cash (we had to have the car in the shop for a week after having it towed from Upper Canada Village 100 km away but that is another story - but anyhow, we told him it cost us a fortune to fix that we don't have) and that we can NOT pay him after this week.

As of Tuesday morning all he had left to do was 1/4 of the backsplash tiles & grout it and finish the drywall in the basement. Do you think it's finished? NO. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.

The backsplash that he quoted us as being 5 hours of work has taken him 3 f-ing days to do. And that included Marc and I scrubbing down the tiles (and various other parts of the kitchen) for 2 hours last night. I think he aimed the grout in the direction of the tiles and hoped for the best.

And how long can it take to hang about 200 square feet of drywall? Apparently more than 4 days. I almost cried when he took me down there as he was checking out at 4pm

He's a lovely person, a really Ottawa Valley boy, good-hearted but he talks a blue streak and never sticks to what he says. He talks in circles. And when you try and call him on it - as in "Hi, I took the kids away for 4 days so you could install my kitchen counters and do the backsplash and all you did was the counters, I was quite surprised." and he's bound to come back with something like "well I just got the counters in" and you say, yes, on Tuesday (please note he was saying to Marc every morning that the backsplash was going up) and he says something that makes it sound like you're the one who is delusional and unreasonable - even though what he said when you said you were going away so he could do the kitchen was "Great, that gives up plenty of time to get the kitchen all finished for you and most of the basement."

Did that last bit make any sense? See, he has my brain so addled that I can't even express myself anymore. My girlfriend Anne was over with her daughter this morning and after 2 1/2 hours of him and his (mostly useless unless throwing paint on the floor counts) helper she was going crazy. She couldn't get over how full of himself he is (her words) and how much time it takes him to explain that simplest thing (i.e. I should be able to re-wire the house based on the narrative about how badly the basement was wired.) And don't bother trying to cut him off, or re-route the conversation, it's not going to work (and I have years of customer service experience behind me, I am usually good at this kind of thing).


And as if that were not enough fun, the deck that we had ordered while we were still at the old house - the one that wasn't built and that they came to check out this yard for - should have been built yesterday and today. Well the installer threw a wobbly yesterday morning because we are in a townhouse and since the houses were built people put up fences that block the common area - and walked out. He was foul. Very unprofessional. Told me he wasn't removing my concrete steps because he was only being paid $25 to do it. I don't blame him, but seeing as it cost us $300 to have them removed I don't really think it was my issue - no? He finally came back but left before the wood was delivered - I had strict instructions to have them deliver it to the back. When the driver came he tried but his forklift wouldn't fit so he couldn't. When the installer came back this morning I was actually afraid of him, the rage he flew into... holy cow. I was thankful there was a house full of people (see? this morning I was actually happy the contractor was here). He was practically flinging the posts across the backyard and cursing and ... it was so unpleasant. There is a pile of rubble under where the deck will be that I am not happy about, and that my contractor (he who talks a lot and knows everything about anything) tells me will attract bees and build moisture (girl with mold allergy - me - not happy). Can you get hold of anyone at the deck company? OF COURSE NOT. Do they return your calls? NO.

I know these are totally insignificant things in the course of a lifetime, and that there are millions of people who would love to have my "problems". And I've really been working on not getting worked up over things, and being grateful for what I have instead of what I don't have (have I mentioned that the contractor won't have finished everything he was supposed to do by next week? That we're going to have to do it again? Which isn't terrible because at least we won't destroy the house doing it).

But right now? I feel like crying. Or rather I am imaging how a good cry would feel since I have not shed a tear since this whole thing began - a feat for the girl who cries when she is frustrated. Okay, I did shed a few tears (cried a river?) the day I left my little house for this one, but that was another thing all together.

So what to do? I've decided that I am going to become a fixture at Home Depot for their information session. I'm going to learn how to do EVERYTHING so I never ever EVER need to hire someone again.

Oh, and I'm going to try and ease up on the Indiana Popcorn I've been shoving down my throat for two days. Yeah, that's not going to help.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Guest post from the man who has to live with me

First of all, please permit me to tell you that I am the biggest fan of this blog. Of course this is a biased opinion as I am also Tracy's biggest fan but that is the case.

Today was interesting. Today was Stuart's first day of school. Today was the day that Tracy's head nearly exploded - before 9:00 AM. Or 0900 hours in military speak as today's school run felt like a military operation. So the man who has driven armoured personnel carriers and tanks (cool NATO job and all) was convinced that he was back in Europe and orders were being given. My darling bride exchanged her luluemon for fatigues and we had a mission: get Stuart on the bus; follow the bus; ensure he gets off the bus; find his classmates; keep it together.. Execute, execute, execute!!

Our son Stuart does not always take well to new situations - and sometimes not so well to familiar situations, so Tracy is often the only parent at the birthday party or the one with a new appendage in the form of a six year old. But today, on the day that it would not matter if a tear was shed or the two-minute hug was given, was not clinging or crying or acting out in any way. In fact, he had his own mission, perhaps a secret mission. He was growing up.

So what, he took the bus - more helicopter parenting, right? Well, hang on for a second. You see, Stuart is the boy who refused to take the bus last year. Would not get on - it never happened. He had just moved 6,000 km to a new country and was taking school in a new language, so give the kid a break. It has been a big adjustment for Stuart and Julia to adapt to Canada from the tiny European country where they born. But now, one-year later things are getting easier - not perfect, just easier.

So we (read Tracy) had geared up big-time for the first day of school, first day on the bus and first day where she was not needed. Stop. She was needed but it was subtle. There was no huge production, there was no negotiation, and there was no scene. He proceeded like it was perfectly normal to get on the bus for the first time, like the big boy he is, find his seat and wave at his Mum - who by the way had run around the bus to ensure that he was OK. She is so cute.

Now we had a NEW mission. You see, Tracy was determined to follow the bus to ensure that everything was OK because "we do not know this Sue person and if she can drive that bus..."

Roger that.

After a highly successful insertion of Stuart into the yellow and black vehicle (school bus), we (Julia and I) snapped to it ensuring that we were fastened into the chase car. There is no question who is driving. Just ask our neighbours who cannot believe that no matter how many minutes earlier they leave, Tracy always arrives first.

We have now arrived at school in advance of the bus. No surprise here - author's chiropractic appointment put to good use today. New mission - find the boy. Divide the squad - Julia and I were instructed to search the grounds while Tracy would do a reckie around the front of the schoolyard. With no communication gear - Tracy's cell phone without charge - Julia and I soon spot Stuart and Tracy walking together around the back of the school. After a few minutes, the bell rings and Stuart gives his Mum, sister and Dad a hug, then proceeds quietly and orderly into school. Mission completed but not the mission we had planned.

You see, today Tracy's head did not nearly explode. There was no collateral damage. She planned for the worst and was pleasantly surprised with how easy it went.

I was not surprised - sure, I did not know that it would be today but I knew that for all of the effort and the determination that she puts into parenting - she would get through to him. He would get it. He would know that he does not need to test her boundaries all the time to know that she is there. She is always there for him, supporting him when he needs it. Today he tested his new wings and soared. So did she.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Nobody told me there'd be days like these

Tomorrow my boy starts Grade 2. And he has decided that he is taking the school bus to school.


First of all - Grade 2 sounds so BIG. Not like Grade 1 where they are just out of Kindergarten and still really babies. So how did he get old enough, big enough, grown up enough to go to Grade 2? Could someone please explain (I know, those of you with older children can shake your heads, just like I will in a couple of years).

And the whole bus thing - excuse me??? This is the kid that flatly refused - REFUSED - to take the bus last year. In Luxembourg there is no school bus (well unless you are the child of a Eurocrat and go to the European School - please read that with a snotty tone). Considering that buses were a whole new thing for him, I didn't push. Ahem. Well not much. There were mornings where it was snowing like crazy and driving was awful and he took 300 years to put his snowsuit on (well, that's how long it seemed to take) that I wished he would take the bus. Mornings I threatened that he would have to start taking the bus, that I wasn't going to drive like a madwoman to school to get there before the bell. (oh man, I am not painting a pretty picture of mornings in our house).

And now? Yeah, he's taking the bus tomorrow. On the first day of school. Without Mama. And Mama wants to cry.

Oh I know, I should be so proud of him (and I am acting all proud). My best friend who has known me since before I even started Grade 2 told me to stop being so silly today. Those weren't her exact words, but I got the message. I mean her kids are both in high school as of tomorrow and I am freaking out about Grade 2?

Apparently I didn't give Stu any warning about the move to a Balanced School Day this year. Meaning that there is no long lunch break for him to come home a couple of days a week for lunch. So when I was explaining to him that there would be two long recesses and he has food that he can eat at either, he wigged out on me. The tears. The recriminations. I even started to doubt whether or not I had told him about it (I did, but man, obviously not enough).

I know that my behaviour (borderline hysteria anyone?) is all symptomatic of a broader issue that involves Julia starting kindergarten next week (another one who wants to take the bus, sheeeesh). And of my babies growing up. And how it's all gone too fast and how I didn't give Stu going to Precoce full-time in Luxembourg 3 years ago and I sure didn't think much about him going to Spillschoul and the caregiver the year after and holy cow - look at all the opportunities I missed to scrutinize my parenting ;-)

Sigh. I never knew it could be this hard (and yes, maybe I need to go back to work so I am not so obsessed with my children).

In the end we decided that I will meet him at school when he gets off the bus to walk into the school yard and find his new teacher. Because it turns out he does need me there after all.