Stress levels rising . . . so I putter with happy-making things.

The field trip to Ottawa ComicCon is right around the corner. One more day. I have to pack tomorrow night, meet up with my mother halfway between our respective houses so she and my dad can look after the 9 year old for the weekend, make sure to remind all of the students to bring snacks, pillows, and chargers on the bus, and on the very quick, get information from the place where we’re staying so that the secretary of our school can cut the cheque before we go.

Yeah. Had a SNAFU with the accommodations. It’s almost cleared up now, but I was close to panicking, thinking we were going to end up bedding down in a former student’s apartment instead of where we are actually going. Wasn’t for lack of trying on my part — I didn’t want to call every day and make them not want to help me out, so I was contacting them once a week for the last month, and we just got the contract for the rooms TODAY.

Stress stress stress stress . . .

No movement on my cosplay plan, although I still have time to put something together. I’m likely going to be Miss Foster from “Partners in Crime”, but for that, I’ll need to bleach my hair blonde again. Not sure I want to spend the money on that, even if I can find the time after school (and IF a hairdresser has time for me. Takes a good two hours to get the dark brown out of my locks!) between getting my Bridget ready for Grandma and Poppa’s house and making sure Jack gets to karate, plus, I still have to pick up crickets for Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, I’m getting peppered with questions, too, about current events regarding teachers in the news. In a small town, when you regularly go to the same shops and Tim Hortons and the staff knows you, they feel comfortable in asking what’s going on. Even if I knew, I wouldn’t be able to say anything, but I don’t, and I can’t. Frustrating.

Stress stress stress stress . . .

So in the middle of all of this, I finished my Daredevil fan video after school. I’m not 100% satisfied with it, but for a first go, it’s not bad, IMHO. And it pleases me that there is now a video online that pairs up Matt Murdock with Corey Hart’s epic 80s song, “Sunglasses at Night”, because whenever I watch an episode, that’s one of the pop culture references I keep thinking over. I went hunting for a video that combined the two, but finding none, I made my own.

Good way to kill some hours and try to lower the stress levels.

I’ve noticed, too, that off and on, over the last six weeks or so, whenever my resolve on this trip has wavered or I’ve made a decision to stay positive about it, a song comes on the radio that bolsters my spirits. So I’ve downloaded it on iTunes, for when I need the boost. It suits the mood of taking kids to Ottawa ComicCon completely. I’ve also had kids ask me if I’m going to do it again next year, because if I am, they’re very interested.

Something else has been helping a little bit, too. I chose Danny Wallace’s book Yes Man for my grade 11 College English novel study this semester, and it’s such a positive read about taking chances and pursuing opportunity, it really is infectious to think over an option and say, “Why not?” (Soooo tempted to just plunge back into being blonde tomorrow after school!!!) Helps to keep things in perspective. Like the prospect of being in charge of 17 young adults on a three day trip to our national capital.

Breathe, breathe, breathe . . . I’ve done this before. It’s not that bad. The students are responsible, even the youngest (who’s partnered up with my own child, who will be in contact with me). They’ll be in a contained environment (except for our afternoon / evening walk in downtown Ottawa — eek!). Breathe, breathe, breathe . . . and I’m not going alone, I’ve got a male chaperone and his wife coming with, sharing the head-counting, etc.

You know what gets me through the pressure of this the most? It’s the positive attitudes and gratitude and enthusiasm of the kids. Last year, when I took a group (almost all the same students!) to see Night of the Living Dead Live! in Toronto, a few of them thanked me profoundly, over and over, for bringing them to the city for the show. One or two of them I hadn’t expected that from at all, not from any flaw in their individual characters, just — it wasn’t expected, and it was really very nice.

Still, whenever I do a trip like this, I don’t sleep well for the last few nights beforehand, or during the event. I’ll crash off and on during the week afterward, though.

Let’s go, indeed. I almost wish I could hit fast-forward on tomorrow, so I wouldn’t have to experience all this last-minute stuff, and just find myself happily on the bus, halfway to Ottawa. I need a montage! Where’s my flash of scenes pushing me through?


A moment of sadness, too, that it turns out Billie Piper isn’t going to be there on the Saturday and Sunday when we are there. So I am a little disappointed I won’t get a chance to meet her, get the autograph, maybe a photo, and so is my boy, for the same reasons. But there are so many other awesome things to do, see, and try, and so many other incredible people to meet as well — breathe breathe breathe . . . stress stress stress . . .

Thinking to myself on a Sunday night.

That moment when you’re partway through a pile of quizzes, and having paused for a few good-night kisses, started mis-marking the questions . . . and you have to go back through all of them to fix your marking error. And you’re marking in pen because once, long ago, when you’d used pencil, a student had received work back and crowed in delight because (as she declared loudly), she could erase the incriminating feedback and her parents would never know the wiser, so you’ve pretty much kept to pen ever since. 

That space of time on a weekend morning, when you know how fast the hours are going to go by and yet you can’t summon the willpower to leave the coziness of the bed and binge-watching a new show while cuddled up next to the significant other. The minutes tick by, running you closer and closer to the return of the work week, and the pressure keeps you from really savouring the moment, yet actually doing something productive is more than you can manage.

That sinking feeling when you are reminded yet again that you’re a lousy housekeeper, according to social standards, and that you’re starting to accept it as a way of life. 

That triumph when you bypass the point in the knitting project where you’d had to unravel it all and start over again, and you’re succeeding. Two weeks ago you’d contemplated tossing the whole thing into a bag and never looking at it again. But the project has achieved a rhythm and you can see its shape now, and the first roll of yarn is nearing its end — you’ll soon have to switch to a new skein.

That tick of realization in planning a school trip that it’s perfectly okay to have an estimated goal for accommodations as long as the bus is paid for first. And the slump of the shoulders at the thought of all the paperwork yet to be filled out for it.

That knot of tension in the shoulders. 

That numbness of the butt after hours of late Sunday-night marking.

That comforting knowledge of a short week, thanks to an approaching holiday. 

Fresh knot at the prospect of shopping for said holiday.

Those dreams of being chased by zombies through theme parks, or being back in a childhood / adolescent home, trying to deal with prospective childbirth, from which you want to escape but you go back into sleep after using the washroom and letting the dog out for a pee because you need to see that everything turns out okay.

The ragged bits of cuticle that are vistual testimony to the nerves and anxiety that you can’t quite shake.

The memories of meditation, yoga, jogging attempts, and circuit training at the gym.

Sunday night.

The Dreaded V Day

Valentine’s Day is looming. Today, after school, I asked Hubby if he would take our daughter to pick up her cards for her class because once again, I had forgotten to grab them at the dollar store. Thankfully he was happy to take her, sparing me the rush of similarly stressed-out parents walking the aisles with their be-snowsuited young, debating the selection and whether to add themed pencils, erasers, or candies to those little printed pieces of cardstock.

I have few good memories of this holiday. Most of them involve my hubby, especially the year that our son was born and I was so deep in the new mom soup of nursing and diapers and not showering that it was a genuine pleasure when he came home with roses and chocolate truffles. It helps to balance the recollection of being eleven and twelve years old and hoping that I would get as many little cards in my art project mailbox as there were kids in my class. When I was a kid, it felt like the school Valentine’s Day party was a popularity test. I was so sensitive that not receiving as many cards as so-and-so felt like utter rejection. And of course, I had my crushes — would someone give me a secret admirer’s message? A clue that I was special? Wrapped up in the romance of fiction as I was at that age, I wanted my world to be like a fairy tale. I wanted happy endings, dates and hands being held, long romantic gazes and just the comfort of knowing that someone liked me in that way. Liked me a lot. And, of course, I got it eventually, but when you’re an adolescent, you want it right-away-immediately-right-now-no-waiting-where’s-my-boyfriend-already-why-can’t-I-get-a-boyfriend* now.

*Also, when I was 11 and 12, I didn’t quite understand that I could have a girlfriend if I wanted. All I knew was the heteronormative terminology and expectations. If I knew then what I know now . . . Maybe next life?

I wonder why it is that high school classes don’t put as much emphasis on Valentine’s Day as elementary schools might? I suspect it’s because of the emotional stress that the holiday can put on people. If you’re single, why don’t you have a partner? If you’ve got a significant other, what are you doing together? When my mother-in-law was visiting this weekend, she kept saying that Hubby and I should go away for a weekend together. The subtext — which quickly became overt text — was that she wants to come up and look after the kids for a couple of days. But when my polite sidetracking didn’t work, I finally came out with it openly and honestly: we simply cannot afford to take a mini-break. There are too many bills, loan payments we barely meet or are behind on again, kids’ activities that I don’t want to give up because they’re helping the children to be healthy and active . . . plus, Hubby works many weekends as well. So we haven’t any plans for Valentine’s Day either. No dinner reservations. He bought me a card today, and has already given me a token of his affection because he couldn’t wait: a little blue french horn on a key ring. (Yes, we’re fans of How I Met Your Mother.)

And you know, that was absolutely the sweetest thing he could have done this week. It’s not just the fact that he was thoughtful enough to order a gift for me that I might not normally do for myself, but to take into consideration what I like and all of that, and that after a tough weekend following a long and stressful few weeks, he gave it to me right when I needed the boost, instead of waiting for the holiday. That seems to be our status quo: we don’t wait for special occasions to give each other lifts. They happen whenever, just because we can. And I think because we value the time we do have together. Life is short.

But back to why Valentine’s Day doesn’t have as much emphasis in high school . . . Some places have dances, I know, and our school council is selling matchmaker-type questionnaires just for fun. But teenagers (without over-generalizing) have enough emotional heartache and hormonal ups and downs as it is without adding the pressure of insisting or encouraging that each class have a party. I’ve witnessed the various forms and degrees of trauma that love can cause in the teenage heart, both when I was in high school and as an educator. Better to leave it as an informal observation among close friends than a central part of the institution, even one that is working at socializing young adults.

The bitter pill in our area is that all of the stress of last-minute card-writing, losing class lists (yes, we lost Bridget’s class list tonight, and when I couldn’t find even her class photo for reference, I had to PM a friend), and reminding/cajoling/browbeating the child into completing the task, we may end up with no school tomorrow. We’re in the middle of another Arctic low, cold enough for a weather alert and the risk of frostbite in five minutes when the wind blows. Hubby believes that buses will be cancelled in the morning, but I’m skeptical. It’s going to be almost cold enough, but not quite. Just enough to make us grumpy and send the kids’ energy sky-high with another round of indoor recesses. Add onto that the hype of the Valentine’s Day parties, and a lot of adults are going to be reaching for the Advil or Tylenol when they get home at the end of the day.

I haven’t yet gotten Hubby a card — did I mention that already? — nor have I gotten him a gift. I might try to brave the store tomorrow, while I’m picking up a heating coil for Elizabeth’s tank. I should look for some small gifts for the children, too. I remember one year my mother giggling over a glass of wine that our Valentine’s presents came from the Valentine Moose. Always loved that image. It’s possible that we’ve already picked up some things and they’ve been hidden so successfully that we’ve forgotten about them, too.

Two more days and then the dreaded V Day will be over. One less bit of pressure wafting away like a balloon in the sky. Or drifting sadly over the snow, where it’s so cold that the helium doesn’t make it float . . .


Party prep (again) — where’s my planner???

Our boy Jack is turning 14 on Sunday. We don’t have a big do planned for him — he invited three or four friends for a sleepover tomorrow night but only one or two have confirmed that they’re coming. One is sick, and another says he just doesn’t feel like it. He asked another friend but the response was that he was going snowboarding. I guess I should have just told him we could do a day with a friend at Mont Kanasuta, but we’ve typically had trouble with his birthday at this time of year. When he was younger and we wanted to give him big parties at the pool, bowling alley, or what-have-you, often he would lose guests to hockey practices. And it’s often too cold in this region at this point of the winter to go sledding at night. We’ve had to be creative with trying different things, done the sleepover a couple of times — it’s easier now that he’s got an X-Box, too.

Jack said to me the other day that he feels like girls are more likely to have big parties. I don’t know how true that is, or whether kids continue having big parties as they get older, except for the milestones. My childhood birthdays tended to be small, with a handful of guests, particularly if we were moving to a new town at the time. We gave him a big Winnie-the-Pooh party when he turned 3 — it was really more therapeutic for me, having lost a pregnancy a few months earlier — and a Wizard party the next year, for which I recruited high schoolers to help as volunteers. Was it last year that we did laser tag? Most of the time, we also try to avoid having parties in the house when possible because we just don’t have the space, but given that it’s only once a year, sometimes it’s worth the noise and the mess and the crowding and the cleaning.

I do wish, right now, that I could afford a party planner or that I had thought ahead to at least get a quote. After two weeks of exams and exam marking and report cards and new classes, the time and energy I’d believed would be available have slipped away like the heat from my coffee if I leave it in the car. Add to that the stress of grandparents coming tomorrow, neither myself nor Hubby feeling quite well from lack of sleep, and the pressure of the next project I said I’d do, and it’s an unholy knot forming between my shoulders. Plus I wasn’t able to get his birthday wish (beanbag chair).

But solutions are forming. I’ve decided that anything that doesn’t directly belong in the living room is going to be stuck in a basket and put upstairs in a relatively out-of-the-way place. If he only has one or two friends coming, that makes picking up loot bag stuff easy! I’ve already picked up party refreshments — Sunny-D and three kinds of chips — and they can always walk to the corner store to pick out candy. I also have a back-up gift I can get him, in lieu of the chair: he really wants a fancy Turtle Beach headset for gaming. I told him he would earn it by completing keyboarding exercises but we can switch it up to something else he’d like to have. His sister also needs to pick something out for her big brother, so I’ll have to bring her out with me to choose a gift. (sigh) And here I had anticipated taking care of all of this during the after-Christmas sales. Oh, well.

One thing I’m finding, though, is that having a child of my own about to enter high school and at the same age / maturity level of some of my current students is making it easier for me to have patience with my grade 9s. There is a benefit to being the mother of a teenager while teaching teenagers! And soon, he’ll be choosing his courses for next year.

Meanwhile, his slightly-jealous, highly ambitious little sister has been planning her own next birthday party, 10 months from now, almost since the night after her 9th birthday passed. (additional sigh)

Another positive point: since the kids have their skiing tomorrow afternoon, that’s one way to help keep the house clean (if and when I get this stuff done). Oh, no . . . if I also go skiing, I’m bound to crash for a couple of hours right when in-laws are descending and kids are coming. I may have to forgo my weekly hour on the slopes! Nooooo!!!

No, teachers don’t sleep at school like bats. And, a poem!

Went out to get a very-late-night supper for the family (trying to see my lapse in “schedule” as delightfully bohemian) and spotted some of my current and former students sitting in Tim Horton’s. Chatted with the latter (thoroughly enjoyed the rolling of eyes and slumping into chair at my approach) and walked over to the former, who did not see me at first but looked around as though suddenly uncomfortable. When two of them noticed me at last, looming up behind, one remarked, “Geez, I was wondering why I suddenly felt like I was back in English class.” I laughed, “What did you feel the cold chill running up your spine?” The other responded, “Yeah, but we weren’t supposed to feel that for another two weeks.” “Don’t you sleep at the school?” Chimed in the first. Hardy-har-har. Good times!

And now, a poem:

Just three nights before Christmas, (’twas Solstice in fact),

And all through the house the children were crack’d.

Screaming like banshees, running upstairs and down,

Rampant play-fighting, pillows smacked on their crowns.

Dishes lay undone from supper, lunch, breakfast;

Wrapping paper strewn over presents amassed.

Price tags scratched poorly from plastic vacuum-formed,

Ripped bits of scotch tape littering hardwood floor.

When out in the kitchen there rang the wall-phone,

I debated pretending no-one was home.

Away from the tv I slogged with my wine,

Nearly knocked over twice by those children mine.

Loud voices all chorused right when I answered,

From both the phone and my offspring so hyper,

When what in my over-wrought ears did I hear

Six more people will come to dinner this year?

Just little more shopping should do the trick,

A Timelord could do it, and so could St. Nick.

But I gazed at the mess and against the wall sagged,

Gazing blearily at my kids through eyes bagged:

“Now daughter! Now son!

Let’s get to cleaning up!

On vacuum! Do mopping!

Garbage picked and dust cropped!

Write labels for the gifts!

Your playtime is over!

Pretend it’s a photo spread

For a magazine cover!”

Greeting cards flew before whirling brooms and bags,

Animals fled from the snapping of wet rags

We attempted some resemblance of order

Like two Hobbits finding their way through Mordor.

First the clutter: fliers and used envelopes

For listing priorities like getting soap.

Then puzzle pieces, markers, glue and felt bits

Swept into a basket and cleverly hid.

Random socks and hairbrushes, lint and dog hair,

Charging cords, fast-food wrappers, crap everywhere.

In the midst of nonsense, gift wrapping going on,

Turn off the TV; Mom’s productive with songs.

The lamps! How they sparkled! The dust wiped clean away!

The floors clear of debris at least for one more day!

I wondered, how long can I make this clean last?

After all, the mess always returns way too fast.

If Santa showed up tonight all would be well

Visitors tomorrow? Welcome! Ring the bell!

But THREE days of clean to be had, in a row?

The kids stared at my laughter, much concerned now.

We could go to Grandma’s, I thought with some cheer,

Until I remembered — she’s going to come here!

Refilled my wine glass with a sigh as I grieved,

Knowing we’ll have to clean again Christmas Eve.

But our house is warm and snug, that’s got some pull;

It’s lived in and comfy, though cluttered and full.

No magazine spread, nor model home is it,

All visitors welcome, just move stuff to sit!

Good impressions aside, this season’s about life,

Conversation and games, forget stress and strife.

“Off to bed, kids!” Peace finally arrives here.

Quiet joy in the longest night of the year.

(Based on “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore)