Friday, July 3, 2009

Advocacy for a Handkerchief

Think back to March. Any March. Perfect time to catch a cold if there ever is one. It's unavoidable : treat it, it will last 10 days; don't treat it, it will last one and a half week. It's just like infantile salubrity (or lack thereof)... it's a part of life!

There was Mr 11 suffering from the pre-spring ailment. 11 years of training (OK, 9 years of training... I did cut him some slack the first 2 years of his life!)... 11 years of teaching him to cough and sneeze in the crook of his elbow, in order to spare the innocent. Almost a decade people, A DECADE to teach the child that his spit and germ-ridden saliva are plain gross, disgusting, revolting... One tenth of a century sprinting to intercept the nasal expulsions of my progeny (14 years total, counting his older brother...).

The author of this post is proud to have succeeded. Indeed, when he anticipates a sneezing fit, Mr 11 quickly retires into intimacy to fully enjoy the sudden attack. Or, when the situation does not permit escape, he promptly turns around to intercept (himself) his expectoration in perfect prophylaxis (the above mentioned crook of the elbow).

But complete success still evades. Failure persists after over 3000 days of hard work. Mr 11 resists, to this day, to use a tissue paper. He prefers, by far, to sniff, inhale, suck in, well snort back in his precious mucus. Foul! Should I ask that he blows his nose immediately, he'll invariably answer "I'm good" ... Should I DEMAND immediate action to that effect, he'll pull out the pouty face of the deeply persecuted.

Lesson of the day (long version) : Love. You body is a marvellous machine, refined by millions of years of evolution, and equipped with subtle mechanisms of self-regulation, i.e. your snot. In the case of a healthy child (which best describes your condition, thank God) aggrieved by the common cold, intra-nasal seepage is anatomically normal, some say even desirable, in order to avoid or relieve nasal congestion. Thus ends our chapter on human biology.

Let us now discuss decorum. I applaud your solid mastery of your bodily foams. In fact, you demonstrate surprising meticulousness in intercepting all and any excretions your are afflicted by. But tissue paper is not your enemy, and my repeated requests to blow your nose are not punishments in disguise. You possess the required talent to include voluntary evacuation to your arsenal of secretion-control (licensed parents will recognize, here, the famous technique of positive validation commonly known as "the sandwich" : compliment - criticism - compliment).

Lesson for the day (short version) : When you repeatedly snort and swallow your snot, please know that it is absolutely repelling, creepy and yucky for the people around you. So, blow your nose for Pete's sake.

Lesson for the day (technical aspects) :
  1. Take a tissue paper (fold in two if of mediocre quality);
  2. Cover nose with tissue;
  3. Briskly exhale, pushing gently alternatively on each nostril while doing so;
  4. Fold tissue as to imprison gathered mucus;
  5. Wipe nose;
  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5 until empty;
  7. Throw away soiled tissues;
  8. Thoroughly wash hands with soap.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Politeness and other absurdities

Picture this : The bunch of us sitting down for a delectable Sunday lunch at Granny's. We came unanounced, and she forces us to eat (ok... if you insist). She whips up a little of this, and a little of that; a classic leftover meal - my favorite. The table is full : alfredo pasta, chicken, taboule, brocoli salad, veggies and dip. We are all hungry, sitting down, and buzy slapping our plates together. Everyone but 11-y.

Granny, being her anxious self, notices the microscopic volume of food that interests the child, and quickly stears into panic overdrive.

Granny : "You don't like couscous? You don't like pastas? You surely can't eat chicken... just like that! Do you want me to prepare a sandwich ?

11-y : "Yes, please"

MHUUUUUNNNN. Wwwwwwrong answer!!!

Granted... a few points for the appropriate placement of "please". But still the wrong answer !

Lesson for the day (uncut version) : When you are being offered something, THINK before you answer. Ask yourself the following : "can my answer cause an inconvenience?". Of watever nature? If the answer is positive, the polite thing to do is to refuse (or accept, depending on the issue) what is being offered in order to avoid said inconvenience. Illustration :

Case study #1
Granny : "The meal is ready. But if you don't like it, I can prepare something else for you."

THINK = Granny has slaved over a hot stove all day. Should I accept her offer, she'd have to start all over again.... Poor Granny.

11-y : "No thank you Granny. What you've cooked smells great." (see Our daily special)

Case study #2

Auntie Judy : "I have some apple juice in the fridge, and orange juice in the basement. What would you like?"

THINK = Auntie Judy is standing by the fridge. As the basement is.... so far away!

13-y : "I'd love some apple juice please."

Case study #3
Mrs Mayer, our charming neighbour : "Good morning boy. How are you today?"

THINK = my mom's been on my case all week about my homework, my dad's driving me nuts with garbage, my brother keep hogging the computer and my sister is harassing me to play My Little Pony with her. I'm having a crappy day!!! But does Mrs. Mayer REALLY want to know that? Wouldn't that make her feel awkward, even a little uncomfortable?

13-y : "Great, thank you Mrs Mayer. How do you do?"

Mrs M : "Very well, very well... What a polite boy you are!"

Case study #4
Uncle Bob : "Look what I brought back from Miami just for you : a nice Florida-shaped keychain. Do you like it?

THINK : Yikes!

Little princess : "Wow, you're so nice Uncle Bob!"

Lesson of the day (short version) : Sounds complicated, but truly, it's quite simple. When you feel like saying yes, say no; and if you want to say no, say yes. Easy enough?

Assorted quote :
Politeness is the most acceptable hypocrisy (Ambrose Bierce).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Emergencies for dummies

I had to leave the house for a few minutes today, with a big juicy ham simmering on the stove while 13-(going on 14)-year-old was "11-year-old-sitting". Within a split second, I had a sudden vision of horror : the ham exploded and set the house on fire. We have an evacuation plan, but we (the parents) are always part of the scenario. But what if ?

Lesson for the day (long version) : Should there be a fire in the house, remember dear child that NOTHING-ABSOLUTELY-NOTHING is worth sticking around for. Do NOT try to put out the fire. Do NOT try to fetch your favourite book (13 is an avid reader). Do NOT worry about the Wii (LP is an accomplished Wii-fiter). Do NOT look for you yu-gi-oh cards (11 is... hem... whatever they are!). We can replace everything and/or live without. Get yourself out of the house, by whatever means : out the door, out the window; break it if you must. Forget everything I taught you about respecting personal belongings (whoever's); do NOT be careful and DO get out !

Lesson for the day (short version) : Fire Bad! You Out! Now!

Friday, February 20, 2009


My kids do chores. I don't believe in "paying" them for chores, so their allowances are not tied to their chores. They are expected to contribute to the household to the extent of their capacity. Little Princess (almost 7) helps with folding facecloths, 11-year-old does dishes and takes garbage out, and 13-year-old dries dishes and cleans the bathroom (this is not a limitative list and should not be interpreted as such by 7, 11 and 13-year-old readers!).

As the complexity of tasks increace, I like to provide my slaves with explicit directions. For example, to ensure proper performance of the bathroom-maintenance task, I have provided thorough training, along with visual aids. I have posted a written step-by-step procedure :

  1. Remove all items from the floor;
  2. Empty garbage pail;
  3. Clear the top of the sink and toothbrush rack (free standing unit, no counter, veeeeery tiny bathroom - expansion fantasies to be addressed in future posts!)
  4. Fill pail with water and detergent (ask an adult);
  5. Clean tub (including walls, shelves, faucet, etc.);
  6. Clean toilet (including tank, cover, seat, rim, bowl, etc);
  7. Clean toothbrush rack;
  8. Clean sink (including faucet and backsplash);
  9. Clean mirror with newspaper;
  10. Wash floor;
  11. Put everything back in place.
Not bad, hey ? What could possibly go wrong.

We did it together a few times to make sure cleaning was interpreted beyond the "wetting" part (refer to Bathing 101 for comparative analysis). Then, I let 13 (then 11) do it himself under loose supervision. And for the past 2 years, he's been "the man". After only one gentle reminder, he always sets himself to accomplish the task... quite nicely I must admit.

Until a few months ago. As he was finishing up his duty one Saturday morning, and I was close by getting ready for a load of laundry, I asked him "toss me your rags". Notice the plural ? Well... only ONE rag made it to the hamper. I ask my sweet progeny to provide me with his second rag. "I only used one!".

That's when I fainted !

Lesson for the day (long version) : Cleaning involves the removal of dust/grease/grime/germs/filth. Unfortunately, as our family is deprived of any bewitchery skills, cleaning usually involves the TRANSFER of said dust/grease/grime/germs/filth onto a medium (i.e. sponge or rag), which in turn releases itself of the unwated particles through rincing. This has a limited functionnal span though, as the medium eventually becomes ridden with grossness, at which point it must be thoroughly laundered for future usage. Enter the second (third, fourth, etc.) medium to continue the initial task. Should there be a limited supply of medium (let's say... a single rag), the task can still be accomplished, requiring though additional planning. Indeed, the sequence of cleaning steps must be re-arranged to process the smut in increasing levels. Failure to take these directions into consideration can lead to disgusting contamination of surfaces meant to be cleansed.

Lesson for the day (condensed version) : In the above procedure, include step 6.1 as "discard rag, and use a new one from this point on". Another option would be to re-arange the order of the steps above to 1-2-3-4-7-8-5-6-9-10-11.

Lesson for the day (short version) : When in a bind, clean butt germs with mouth germs, not the other way around!!!!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Our daily special is...

Little-princess is 6-going-on-7. She's always been very assertive, but willing to try new things. Lately though, little-princess has been increasingly fussy at meal times. Even the food she's always loved (i.e. avocados) is classified in the "I don't like it" section, only to be reclaimed a few weeks later ("I used to like them, then I didn't like them, and now I like them again... Isn't that funny mommy?)". Daddy, being in charge of making lunches for all 3 kids, has almost gone mental trying to figure out what to put in her lunch-box.

Here's sample of the dynamics involved :

Daddy : Do you want a ham sandwich in your lunch today ?

LP : No, I don't like it.

D : How about a chicken wrap ?

LP : No.

D : Beef-barley soup ?

LP : No.

D : COME ON !!!!!

LP : Ok, I'll have a ham sandwich

No comments.

But as this blog in not titled "Self-help for FUSLP (Fathers Unable to Stand up to their Little Princess)", and since, as they say, it takes two to tango, we'll address LP's culinary fuss.

Lesson for the day (long version) : We eat to live, not live to eat. If you are unable (or unwilling) to cook for yourself, or if you are a guest, the right thing to do is to accept what is offered to you, period. Without going into the poor-children-of-the-third-world-who-don't-get-enough-to-eat routine, let's just say that, should you not care for what is offered to you, you should not make a fuss about it. First, make a mental note to not include the disliked selection on your menu when you are out to college. Second, make a choice : you are free to eat what is in front of you... or not. If you choose the latter, please know that it is rude to ask for something else instead.

Lesson for the day (short version) : Eat what's in you plate or go without.
This is not a freaking restaurant.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bathing 101

Over the past few months, my 11-year old has had a relapse in personal hygiene. I have had to go as far as threaten him to slap on my bathing suit and get in the shower with him for a hands-on demonstration. Arrrgghhhh!

Here is my son's current idea of bathing:
  1. turn water on
  2. get in shower
  3. pour shampoo in hand
  4. spread shampoo over hair ("spread" as in "one-stroke-down-the-head")
  5. rinse
  6. get out
Total time : 48 seconds

Don't get me wrong. I AM a strong believer in preserving our environment. I actually encourage my hole family to turn off the water while lathering. But this is ridiculous, Son!

Lesson of the day (long version): Bathing requires 3 very important components : Water, soap and friction. In addition, your body has 5 odour-generating, filth-gathering, lint-collecting and/or zit-prone areas that need to be taken care of everyday : hair, face, arm-pits, private areas and feet. Be sure to address each body part/area with the proper combination of cleanser and friction, then rinse well. Still not clear on how to do it ? Refer to a complete step-by-step procedure here!

Lesson of the day (short version): Soap-up and scrub!
( it's not THAT bad, I promise!)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Respect for the performer

How more touching does it get? Your second-born, on stage, sharing with the world his new passion for the clarinet at the school's fund-raising slash talent show. You are, at last, reaping the reward for hours and hours of painful practice - from the dreaded squeaks to the dead-on notes. Tear in the eye, heart beaming with pride. You are surrounded by parents who share your pride, most directing their full attention and their overboard enthusiasm towards ALL children in the show (they are all just so cute!).

Unfortunately, some folks come to these shows for the sole purpose of attending THEIR kid’s performance; they blatantly show that they could not care less for what is going on on stage when their offspring isn't in sight. If only they would yawn and doze off between the acts they came for... alas, they prefer to discuss household problems with their spouse, catch-up on the latest gossip with a fellow parent or ... well, "cell phone", need I say more?

Lesson for the day (long version) : When someone, especially a child, has gone through the trouble of preparing a performance (song, dance, lecture, etc), and you have CHOSEN to attend the event, you MUST show respect for ALL performers in the show by refraining from any disruptive behaviour (talking, phoning, fidgeting). Should you absolutely need to go to the bathroom, leave or use the phone (emergencies do happen), kindly wait in between acts to quickly usher yourself out.

Lesson for the day (short version) : At a show, shut up and sit still !

Remember that, as painful as they can be, each individual event serves as formal training, dear teenager of mine, for when you become a 7-figure CEO and are required to attend every opera premiere in the city (clapping and whistling etiquette to be addressed later).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Street Smarts, PART 1 (of many to come)

or the pressing need to re-state the obvious...

Picked-up my soon-to-be-14-year-old son on his way from school this afternoon. Picture this : narrow street, no sidewalks, lots of snow accumulation on either side (city running low on snow-removal budget I guess), big yellow school buses zipping by. Enter a sloppy teenager, walking with his back to traffic... READING A BOOK.

Now... I'm a strong believer in the educational, intellectual, motivational, inspirational and enlightening values of reading. But for the love of God.... not at the risk of loosing you life !!!!!

Lesson of the day (long version) : DON'T TRUST CAR DRIVERS. Always walk AGAINST traffic, especially if no sidewalks are available. And keep your eyes on the road... just in case an a**hole misses a curve or a stop sign. Be alert at all times !

Lesson of the day (short version) : The can is a much safer place for reading!

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I am not one to expect my kids to be seen and not heard. But I dream of the day when my kids will know the difference between finger food (e.g. tacos) from meals requiring proper flatware (e.g. spaghetti) without maternal interference.

As I am an eternal optimist (most days), I remind myself, today, that I MUST MAKE SURE THEY KNOW :

  • To wait before everyone had been served at the table before digging in (we'll work on the "hot plate" exception as we go along).
  • When trying to get in or out of a store (or other public venue), be sure to hold the door for the person following you, or the person passing you. And be sure to say "you're welcome", especially loud if they haven't thanked you (who said good manners and attitude were incompatible!).
  • When you call someone on the phone, DO NOT say "who is this?" to the person answering you. Introduce yourself first, and politely request the person you wish to talk to. DO NOT mumble - speak clearly. This is a great opportunity to apply cross-curricular competencies : "Please" and "Thank you" can be used on the phone TOO !
  • On the subject of phone calls, 911 is for EMERGENCIES ONLY. If you feel like chatting with someone, CALL GRANDMA!!! (remember, Zack ?)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The very obvious...

Ok, here we go ! OBVIOUSLY, every kid, no matter what age, should know how to :

  • Say please and thank you
  • Brush their teeth
  • Flush the toilet
  • Kiss mommy with their mouth closed
  • Tell the front-end from the back-end of a shaggy dog

How specific ?

In the summer of 2008, in the middle of what seemed like a never-ending heat wave, I felt a storm coming. Literally... A thunderstorm was definitely on it's way. Feeling the wind pick-up, and seeing the clouds moving in, I asked my 13-year-old son to run upstairs and shut the windows. And that was when I discovered I was failing at parenting.

He looked at me, eyes wide opened, and said “I don't know how” ! I took a deep deep breath and said “Approach the window and puuuuuulllll down!”. I never thought I'd have to be THAT specific !

OK, I realise I was getting “'tude” from a teenager in bloom, who actually knew how to close the darn windows. But this event caused me to reflect on what I had taught my kids so far, and what I had not.... yet ! (forgot to ? assumed they knew ? did not think it mattered ?) .

So, I set on making sure that, as my three kids grew older, they knew everything they ought to know to get away with LIFE!