School of Mom

Things my children have taught me:

  • The importance of play, even for grown-ups
  • How to inject new life and meaning into household tasks/chores
  • A whole new pleasure in cooking for (and with!) my family
  • How to view everything like it’s fresh and new
  • How to slow down
  • How to lower my expectations of perfection (from myself)
  • How to be okay with not being on time sometimes
  • How to be creative and make art every single day
  • To enjoy sewing!
  • To be thrifty and frugal
  • Patience that I never thought I’d have
  • How to laugh at myself
  • To turn inward and really work on my own struggles
  • To respect money and resources
  • That I want to be a writer, who writes books for them to enjoy
  • To be reverent and terrified of the passage of time
  • That there are one million outlets for my imagination
  • That their opinion of me is the only one that matters (after my own)
  • How to melt away my hard exterior
  • To (always try to) speak with love and respect even when I’m feeling frustrated or tired
  • That their ideas, insights, theories and notions are often more touching, profound, brilliant and pithy than those of most adults I know
  • That I am a good mother and dedicated parent
  • How to (strive to) make them feel how loved and cherished they are all of the time
  • That I belong somewhere, to someone
  • That my family, in all of it’s quirky, evolving, unusual glory is the most important thing in the world to me
  • That their amazing, delightful, beautiful selves are proof positive that I am good and doing something good for the world
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Day Four: We Experience SeaWorld

Our vacation time idea of an early start basically meant letting the kids sleep until they woke up on their own. Thanks to a much later bed time, this was also usually when I woke up on my own. I wish every day were like this. On the morning of day four, by the time we were ready to eat, we realized our restaurant was about to stop serving breakfast so we ordered food to our room. Powered with French Toast and breakfast wraps, we set out to explore SeaWorld.

Our SeaWorld admission was included in the price we paid for our tickets to a place called Discovery Cove (more on that later) so we decided to take advantage. I remembered enjoying SeaWorld as a kid, so I assumed our kids would also have a good time there. The entire idea of SeaWorld raised some controversy among the adults. I think we all agree that it seems inherently wrong to keep whales and dolphins and other majestic creatures of the sea trapped in captivity, but when else would we ever have an opportunity to see these creatures up close? SeaWorld has raised the bar really high for North American aquariums, and they are very committed to saving and rehabilitating marine life, and to being very environmentally responsible (or so they say). I mean, they had no lids or straws available anywhere for their disposable cups, and that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

By day four we’d become smart, savvy travelers so our first stop was to the stroller rental place, where we picked up a double stroller for the girls. It was scorching hot with not as much cloud cover as the first few days, so both girls were quick to jump into the stroller to relax. We pulled out a map and a show schedule and tried to make a plan for the day. Our first stop was the Manta, a huge roller coaster that swoops and swirls and tries to simulate the movement of a manta ray, including a nice splash in the pond for the riders. Both girls were too short to ride, so that was that. We popped into our first aquarium and oohed and ahhed over some beautifully coloured fish, octopi, seahorses, etc.

Our path took us to the shark aquarium next. I still get shivers standing on the moving sidewalk and gliding through the shark tube. I had already seen the Jaws films by the time we went to SeaWorld in my childhood and that classic scene will be forever burned into my brain. The girls were absolutely not interested in feeding the sharks. This might be because I told them that it had only been a year or so since the shark tank cracked open. I think they were happy to get the hell out of there unscathed.

The first show available to us was the Orca show called one world. We hiked across the park to the stadium, where we got our seats nice and early. A insisted on sitting in the ‘Splash Zone’ so Mama S joined her. H sat with us higher up because she’s not fond of getting wet unless she’s in a bathing suit. The set was quite elaborate, with huge multi-media projector screens. Even in the shade I was still sweating like a maniac (I later came to realize that at seven months pregnant, this is just what my body does now.) and I was beginning to question whether or not I should head to the Splash Zone myself when the show began. SeaWorld started out with a huge tribute to the armed forces, and asked all of the military families in the audience to stand. People cheered and they flashed the families up on the big screen, then they launched into the show proper. It was called ‘One World’ and the very loose concept was that we are all part of one big world that we need to protect, particularly the creatures of the sea. We watched this message while trained orcas launched their massive bodies into leaps and twirls for our amusement. Just that morning, I had read an article about how one of the Orcas killed a trainer in 2010 during a behind-the-scenes tour. The trainer had been with SeaWorld for 20 years. Seeing the whales for the first time brought tears to my eyes, but it was hard to really surrender to the entertainment like I did as a kid because I really felt confused about my position on the whole idea of SeaWorld. The kids were delighted and amazed, of course, and A and Mama S got significantly soaked with whaley salt water.

After the show ice cream was required. Ice cream at these places is never really ice cream. It’s always that weird soft-serve stuff, but I didn’t care in that moment. I just wanted something cold. The kids opted for a slushy, and my childhood passion for slushies was re-kindled. We stood and consumed our treats while watching a red squirrel sit on a man’s shoe and eat his cone, then flop into a carb coma under the shade of his chair. I think the kids thought it was another of the trained SeaWorld animals. Perhaps it was?

We hit the kids’ zone next. All of us rode the carousel, where I opted for the stationary seat after realizing that there was no way to possibly climb up onto one of the moving creatures in my condition. Also, I was worried that with my size, I would look like a whale mounting a cartoon whale. A quick glance around at the other patrons assured me that this was more common than I thought, and most of the other guests didn’t have pregnancy as an excuse.

When we arrived at SeaWorld we were minutes inside the gates and H already started asking how long we were staying. This might have been due to the huge orca mascot greeting all the guests at the entrance, but now by this point, she wanted to know if we were leaving soon. It was so, so hot and the small amounts of shade didn’t help much. After the carousel, we headed to this huge net climbing structure for the kids. Mama S and I sat on a bench in front of a misting fan. By day four I’d given up on ever having good hair in Florida. Each day I’d try to do something nice, and by noon I’d look like Hermione Grainger. Daddy went up to let the girls know where we were and ended up staying to play. He’s inexhaustible it seems! After a spell we were reunited and the kids wanted to ride the children’s roller coaster. No coasters for me, so I sat and held our bags.

Most of the rides in the kid area were totally boring to Hannah, so we carried on to the next show, which was a seal show about pirates, naturally. Another trek across the park in the blazing heat to get there. At this point, I was also starting to feel a bit flaked.  The pre-show for the seals was this AMAZING mime dressed like a pirate. His schtick was ushering in the crowd and then making fun of people behind their backs to delight the audience. He was great. I could have watched him all day. He made me think of some of the amazing improv performers I worked with back in my Renaissance Festival days. The show itself was a disaster. The lead actor seemed like a jerk, the two seals got in a huge fight and the biggest one chased away the smaller one, who refused to return, and none of the actors seemed equipped with enough comedy to handle the upset in the flow of the show. I never imagined I’d morph into theatre critic mode at SeaWorld, but there I was in the audience thinking I could do it better.  Again, the kids laughed their heads off. What do I know?

Post-seal show marks the point where I wanted to go home. Hannah also wanted to go back to the hotel. I wore a dress to Disney on day two and for the first time ever, my thighs began to chafe. Sexy. I was really starting to feel the burn again, and the shorts I’d packed were too small. My feet and ankles were throbbing and swollen, plus the baby decided to rest all his weight on my bladder so I felt like I had to pee for the entire day. Thank god these theme parks keep their bathrooms pristine. I was quickly dissolving into a whiny, cranky mess.

The majority decided that we should definitely take in the new Turtle Trek adventure in 3D before we left. They sold me on the idea of a seat in an air-conditioned theatre. What they didn’t count on was the 45 minute wait outside, standing in line behind the most obnoxious pre-teen girl on the continent in the sweltering heat. I actually wanted to cry, and really tried my hardest to hold it together to keep the kids’ experience positive.  A kept stomping on my toes in her game of swinging on the metal bars that kept us corralled. At least it was an opportunity to practice my deep breathing.

Finally we got inside where we had to wait some more. This time the wait was in a dark, air conditioned room with an aquarium filled with manatees and sea turtles. The manatees floated, suspended in the water, huge and unmoving. I was so very envious of them. If I were on display in an aquarium, I would have looked exactly the same. I ended up lowering myself miserably to the carpeted floor, only to have the doors open to let us in to our seats. Fortunately I was hoisted up by Daddy.  In to the theatre we shuffled with the crowd, only to realize that there WERE. NO. SEATS. We stood, leaning against bars, under a big dome of a projection screen. Apparently it was the height of 3D technology, with the movie unfolding all around us. We got to experience a journey from hatching to returning to the beach to lay eggs from the perspective of a sea turtle. I’m sure it was great, but I was so completely and totally over SeaWorld by then and my feet were swelled up like puffer fish.

Finally we were released from captivity and we headed for the exit of the park. I was starting to feel like a whistling kettle that nobody had removed from the element. I’m not a very subtle person either. H was near tears too, so at least I had an ally. Even Daddy I’m sure was aching and tired. SeaWorld is not designed well for a very pregnant lady, tired kids and a one-legged man. Mama S never complains. Ever. On our way to the exit, we encountered the sting ray pool where there were throngs of people feeding the rays and petting them. We didn’t stop to feed, with the promise that the next day we’d return and feed the dolphins and sting rays, but we did get to pet a few. Their stingers are removed, of course. Our children are wonderful and gentle and respectful with animals, but there were so many parents I wanted to slap for letting their kids just go wild, unsupervised. Poor creatures in the pool. I wondered how many injuries they suffered at the hands of idiots. They were so beautiful to watch, and kind of silly too. It seemed like they were splashing people on purpose. They feel exactly like wet portobello mushrooms.  This was easily the highlight of the kids’ day.

Back at the hotel we laid in the a/c for half an hour and got changed into our “swim costumes” as Daddy calls them. We ate a quick dinner and then spent the rest of the evening in the blessed relief of the pool enjoying our second wind. Once in the water, H never wants to get out. I think she would have been happy to have spent another entire day at the pool, but SeaWorld did inspire some pretty awesome dolphin play.

Day Five is SeaWorld part two. Stay tuned to learn an amazing thing about dolphins!

Vacation Day Three

On this particular morning, Daddy got up in the wee hours while we all snoozed happily away. He brewed some coffee to take in a travel mug, and then he went to enjoy the anniversary gift that Mamma S and I got him (all her brilliant idea). He hit the race track at Disney to enjoy a few laps in a Ferrari 458.

I think he was back just after I got out of the shower. By his account it was money well spent and he had a great time. He was grinning like a little boy, and I only wish we had a photo, though I’m glad he didn’t shell out the requisite $$ to get one.

Our plan for day three was to do absolutely nothing, and that’s exactly what we did. We grabbed some breakfast, headed over to the main pool, and swam and relaxed until one of the daily thunderstorms forced the pool to close down in the late afternoon. It rained every single day of our trip, but usually only for a very short spell, and then it would return to glorious sun shine. On day three, the rain came, and more or less stayed for the rest of the day.

We returned to our hotel suite and enjoyed some Olympic television, some games (including the super popular Bananagrams) and some nap time. Daddy made a dinner reservation at a near by Italian restaurant for later, and when the rain stopped falling we took the girls to the little playground near our room to burn off some steam while Mama S enjoyed her nap. If you’re traveling with children to a place like Orlando where there is so much to see and do, I highly recommend you plan for at least one day like this. It was a much needed re-charging of all of our batteries.

Dinner was nice, and the restaurant was packed. It was an independent place (not a chain, like most of the restaurants we visited) and it seemed like it was in high demand. Even with a reservation we had to wait over half an hour for a table, but the food was delicious. Our server was from Niagara Falls, NY so she was well versed about Canada. She gave us some pointers about where we could take the girls to shop for the little trip souvenirs we promised they could get.

After dinner, and with an ice cream – crazed A in tow (something wild can happen with the mix of tired and ice cream) we set out to look for a souvenir shop. I think we were all a little bit done for the day, but we’d promised the kids the chance to shop, so we persevered. We ended up stopping at the biggest place we could find, and really just found a sea of crap inside. The kids took forever to make a choice, and the grown ups really needed to direct them because none of us wanted to make room for cheap plastic dolphin figurines and snow globes in our house. We all hate that kind of knick-knackky crap.

The final winners were a pair of tiny stuffed dogs with big pathetic eyes that could be clipped on to a bag or a belt loop. The girls settled on these with the promise that we’d make one more souvenir stop before the vacation was over. FYI, we set a dollar limit of course. Mamma S and I also found our own great souvenir, but decided the photo was enough of a trip memory.

Back at the hotel, we put the girls to bed, and then the three of us got in some Olympics before our eyelids grew too heavy. Even doing nothing all day really seemed to take it’s toll. Perhaps it was an indication of how much we needed our rest. Day four was Seaworld, and an early start.

Floriday Vaycay Day One

Moments before piling into the car to leave Toronto

It’s morning here, and we’re waking up slowly before padding off for breakfast and some pool side relaxation prior to braving day two of Magic Kingdom. The girls are engaged (i.e. fighting like cats) in a game of Math Dice.

We arrived very late on Tuesday night, and the kids were total troupers despite a full day of making our way from Toronto to Buffalo Airport. Our resort is beautiful, and we’ve got all of the pool we could ever ask for here (I think there are four on site). Today our mission is to discover the kid friendly pool with the pirate ship.

Yesterday we woke up at a leisurely pace, went for breakfast at the resort restaurants, and then piled in the car and headed to Magic Kingdom. The excitement level was through the roof (literally – I couldn’t believe how loud the car was) and both girls patiently weathered the series of gates and monorails and check ins that led into entering the park once and for all. Upon entry, A got the chance to get up close and personal with Princess Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty). She was lovely and didn’t look sweaty or uncomfortable at all.

H & A take on the Magic Kingdom

Despite a fairly rainy morning (including a brush with a typhoon that left us all soaking wet and ducking for cover in a ‘tribal market’) we managed to knock off half the park at a pace that suited everyone, and the kids got to experience several of the rides that were our own childhood favourites. Highlights included Pirates of the Caribbean, and my favorite The Haunted Mansion. I finally got to ride It’s a Small World, after it being closed all three times I’d previously been to Magic Kingdom. In typical Schnooville fashion, I saw a Toronto colleague running for cover in the downpour. It seems I can’t travel without bumping into someone I know!

I was able to enjoy nearly every ride, except the roller coaster they rode in Frontierland. Riding with the kids was so much fun because they were totally amazed by everything. Instead of the coaster I took a cruise on a riverboat, waving at enthusiastic strangers and wearing my big floppy hat. There were no seats on the boat, and at one point we cruised past a canopied area filled with rocking chairs that seemed to mock me from the shore. The rain made the afternoon temperature quite awesome for a pregnant lady, and my feet held up for nearly six hours. We enjoyed several rests for snacks and water, and an ice cream break to bolster us towards the end of the day. If you can call that soft serve stuff ice cream.

My view from the riverboat

The infamous line ups that we read about really weren’t so bad. The worst was for the last ride we rode – the Peter Pan Adventure. It really was epic, and the ride was really not as impressive as some of the others that we only had to wait 15 mins for. The kids seemed to enjoy it though (H thought we were actually flying), which is the whole point, isn’t it? We headed back to the hotel, enjoyed a late supper, and then a very late family swim before bed time. Our pool is open until 1am!

Today we’ll return to Magic Kingdom in the late afternoon and visit the attractions we didn’t get to yesterday and probably stay for the fireworks. May the gods have mercy as we attempt to drag two exhausted kids home in the epic traffic after park closing. Maybe the Internet gods will show us a free place off site where we can enjoy them?

At dinner last night, six-year-old A spontaneously queried “Do you know how much we love you guys?” and we were treated to an impromptu dance party by the girls who cared not a whit about what other people on the patio might think of their exuberant display. The family vacation simply MUST be an annual tradition.

Day One

This is the first New Year’s Day I haven’t had a hangover in, well, I just don’t know. It’s kind of a nice feeling.

Last night was a quiet dinner in a Yorkville Chinese restaurant (delicious) and a movie – Black Swan (I was totally blown away. Natalie Portman was unbelievable and the story was spectacularly dark.) We toasted the New Year quietly, at home, missing a third of ourselves and feeling more than a little wistful. My life is getting back on track, and I am grateful.

Today I slept soundly until 11 am, which is unlike me. We got ourselves up and went for brunch with some friends, and then returned home for some household busy work and some reading and writing. Getting my drink on just a little today, with nowhere to go and snug in my pajamas. I’ve taken a break from the Caesars and am transitioning into evening with Kir Royale.

I’m thinking about the freedom and strength I felt in Paris. My little vacation felt like a lifetime ago. The start of my life’s great love also felt like Paris. Bold, beautiful, true to my soul, and exciting. Anything was possible. I want this feeling for 2011. I don’t want to feel afraid and unclear. That part is over. It’s time to settle into something deeper, truer, richer than ever before. Richer than we’d even imagined.

I’ve been working at a list of things to focus on for this year. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Stability and a deeper understand of the love I have.

Improved communication skills.

A deeper understanding of what security means to me, and how I have power to build it.

Stronger, deeper relationships with the people who are most important.

Greater physical health and strength.

A meditation practice.

A deeper understanding of my own emotional responses.

A greater exploration of my writing. I think I’ll start a daily writing practice.

Diminished need for approval.

A daily practice articulating gratitude.

Learning to sit with difficult emotion and understanding it deeply before expressing it.

Deeper focus on the positive.

A greater demonstration of the love I feel.

Increased creative time with my little girls.

Deeper trust.

More reading.

A driver’s license.

2010 Curriculum

Things I have learned in 2010:

  • The love in my life makes me glow when it is harmonious (everyone said so, and I’ve never heard this so consistently.
  • The work that I have accomplished this year has been some of my best, and it was all for my family and I.
  • You can love people who aren’t blood like your family. Sometimes even more so.
  • Faith is inside me, not in the clouds.
  • Relationships are hard, my relationship to myself is harder.
  • Family is everything. Having a family of my own is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever known.
  • Anger and fear have a powerful grip, and will choke out all that is good and true if they are granted enough opportunity.
  • Trust cannot be taken away. There are people in life who will make choices that hurt you, but they can’t take parts away from you unless you give them away.
  • Sticking through difficulty and pain will reveal more truth than running away.
  • Books keep me sane.
  • Writing continues to save me.
  • My heart knows. Nobody else has to approve this.
  • I am poised to have everything I’ve ever wanted, but my soul needs to be ready to embrace this reality.
  • I have really amazing friends.
  • I have filled my world with inspiration, and can find it everywhere.
  • I am a good parent and have the makings of a really, really great parent.
  • I want, and deserve, an abundance of love.
  • When love gets scary, don’t run away. Love bigger and harder.
  • I am strong. Inside and outside.
  • I don’t need a dog in my life, but I’m a calmer, more sane person with one.
  • I could do a lot better at many things than I have done this year. Love is at the top of that list.
  • I ultimately need to be self-employed. Forever.
  • I am not nearly as self-aware as I thought I was.
  • There are ways of communicating that have nothing to do with words.
  • It is impossible to please everyone. I ought to only aim to please the people who love me the best, which includes me.
  • Children are more rewarding than dogs.
  • Hurting the people you love most hurts more than anything I’ve lived through thus far.
  • My brain can conjure truths more terrible than anything I’ll ever have to live through again. I have to remind myself this on a daily basis.
  • My body, though mysterious, isn’t in as bad shape as I’d feared. I think time will tell what it is actually capable of, and a healed up heart will go a long way towards a healthy vessel to do great things with.
  • I am a writer first, a performer second, and an entrepreneur third.
  • Writing fiction is scarier than accepting love.
  • Independence is power, and I need more of that power.

Thank you Universe for a complex, painful, joyful, terrifying, laughter-filled, inspiring, shining year. Every day is a gift, and I’m ready for 2011. Thank you to each of you who have loved me, and particularly to those of you who have loved me even when you weren’t exactly sure why you should.

Happy New Year!

xo

Schnoo

All the Bells Rang Out, There Were Tears of Joy and Laughter

In the face of so much uncertainty, I know this is true; I never want the holidays to feel like this again. This has always been an important time of the year to me, and I want to honor it without so much confusion and sadness for all of the rest of my days. Perhaps that’s naive, but this is how I feel today.

Initially, I thought I would forgo the extended family Christmas Day feast, a tradition I’ve observed since birth, every single year of my life. I’ve been so emotional lately, and putting on a brave face seemed totally impossible. I was also worried that I would be facing judgment, which is difficult on a good day.

As the days leading up to Christmas unfolded however, my reality shifted once again, and I found myself yearning for something as familiar as the sight of my own face in the mirror.

I felt great calm wash over me as I arrived at my parents’ house, my house for my entire life. Right after walking through their door, I knew I had made the right decision. As the day would unfold, I knew I was where I should be, but I also knew that four important people were missing. I felt their absence as profoundly as I felt the waistband of my jeans constricting around my turkey-filled belly.

It was a beautiful day in my aunt’s beautiful home. My family were generally warm and unobtrusive. I was so happy to play and snuggle and dance with my cousins’ beautiful children. We went through a spell where there were no little ones for several years, but now my generation is pro-creating and there is tinkling laughter and the exuberant energy of little monkeys all over again. I still hope that one day my own little ones will be part of that music.

Yesterday I learned that members of my family are actively reading this blog. I also learned that reading this blog seems to create some confusion for some of them. For those of you who are confused about who I am writing to, or for, or about I would like you to just ask me. Please send me a note. Please don’t speculate and create further confusion and possibly hurt feelings. This made for a really awkward moment on an already difficult day for me yesterday.

I have great love, respect, and admiration for my collective family. They have survived a lot of pain and loss. Despite this, we continue to come together. For me, that impulse comes from honoring the idea that there are some constant, deeply rooted things that tie us to the earth, and add meaning and purpose to our lives. Family is one of them.

Watching everyone spontaneously rock out to Boney M after dinner, with percussion instruments in hand or babies in arms reminded me of where I come from. Life is deeply painful, incredibly confusing, and exquisitely beautiful all at the same time. I come from people who deeply understand this.

The people who make us can’t fully know us, the people who know us can’t really make us. Our hearts belong only to ourselves and are our beautiful worlds to govern.

This heart of mine needs family. Deep, true, real family that I can belong with and belong to. This is at the top of my New Year’s wish list, and will shape the woman I am in 2011.

I hope that your Christmas Day was warm, and that your Boxing Day will suitably be devoted to eating too much, drinking too much beer, and watching the Canada/Russia game. This is what will keep me rooted to the world today.

People shouted ‘Let everyone know, there is hope for all to find peace.’