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On Your Father's Side  

Mom as Superwoman

Watching my mom garden is a little like watching Hercules work through his 12 labours.

But instead of wearing a lion’s skin, she slays overgrown rose bushes and parades around the house like she just won the Kentucky Derby.

Did I just call my mom a horse?

Workhorse, yes. This woman’s energy level is enough to power entire neighbourhoods.

She just spent a week with us, helping me with our three daughters as my wife travelled for work.

It was a rare treat to have her for Mother’s Day, since my parents and brothers live in Ottawa.

I don’t remember her having this much energy when I was a kid, but I don’t remember much about my childhood that didn’t specifically focus on me.

I mean, really, I was pretty important to myself.

She might have been doing all sorts of cool things during my teenage years, but unless it involved video games or basketball hoops, I likely wouldn’t have noticed.

“Gramma K” landed last weekend and we immediately set to work — planting tomatoes, peppers, something called a cucamelon, and various other vegetables our first day together.

You’ll have to Google that, but I promise a cucamelon isn’t grown in a lab.

But that little bit of light planting was small potatoes for her (pardon the pun, but we didn’t actually plant potatoes).

We had a great time, and were sad to see her off, mostly because she remained on Eastern time.

By the time I dragged myself from bed, she’d already watered the garden, fed my kids, and done some light carpentry.

I normally write while my girls are in preschool, and mom was happy to “putter” in the garden during that 2 ¼ hours last Tuesday.

When it came time to collect the girls, I peeked into the backyard to find her mopping her brow.

The one thing she’s not accustomed to is 25 C at 10 a.m. in mid-May.

It made me feel slightly guilty that she’d pulled back all the landscape fabric in our back garden, shovelled the landscape rock and re-staked the garden edging.

Wait, is Son Guilt even possible?

She’d identified the mysterious white-and-yellow flowers, figured out how much to prune them and cut the barberry bush enough so it was off the ground instead of spilling this way and that.

Yes, all of that was in a single, two-hour timeslot.

She never wanted to be compared to my grandmother, but it’s getting harder to ignore the similarities.

Gramma Betty was born between the world wars, raised during the Great Depression, and mothered six kids in a three-room farmhouse.

She obviously passed along her survival genes to my mother, but I’m not sure they landed in my DNA.

Perhaps it follows a maternal line.

Needless to say, we miss her. I can only imagine this is what hiring a nanny must feel like, except my mom also paid for everything while she was here, plus did her share of cooking.

Goodness, I’m a loafer.

My friends suggest our parents do this because they don’t have the burden of kids day-to-day.

Of course that’s true, but she was doing all that and raising my kids.

She enjoyed every second of it, likely spurred on by Mom Guilt for not being around us more.

Son Guilt really isn’t a thing, is it?

We were a little nervous about her trip, since she’s recovering from a troubling health scare a few months ago.

I’m glad she’s back on her feet, doing yoga at the gym most mornings, and generally keeping a positive attitude.

I’d suggest the one thing that worries me most outside of my immediate circle of wife/daughters is her health.

We will see here again in August at my cousin’s wedding. She’s volunteered to bake the wedding cake.

Yes, she does cakes.

About the only thing she doesn’t do is photos.

I’ve toyed with the idea of uploading one from when we were younger, but she’d likely fly back here and kick my ass.

She could totally do it, too.

I don’t want to tick her off, but at the same time our driveway really needs to be resealed.



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Dad tested by tragedy

Chris Erskine has spent a lifetime riffing on his four kids.

He’s built a mini-empire sharing their stories: three books and a syndicated humour column from his base with the L.A. Times.

His sense of humour is somewhere between the “rock-bottom remainders” of Dave Barry and the suburban drawl of Erma Bombeck (if you remember Erma Bombeck).

He appeared ready to introduce himself to a wider audience when tragedy came knocking.

His 32-year-old son was killed in a car crash this March, weeks before his most recent book, Daditude, was to hit store shelves.

“My humour always comes from a place where I’m just trying to get through it,” Erskine told me during an interview.

“This is the ultimate test of, ‘can you find a smile? Can you laugh about some of his habits ... or are you going to curl up into a little ball and hide in the corner?’”

He admitted that selling a book of humour where one of the main characters dies suddenly is a chore.

But doing anything after losing a child is a chore, he said.

He’s been buoyed by his friends, family, church, neighbours and readers.

It was the latter — through online comments and messages — that made Erskine realize just how many people have lost a child or sibling suddenly.

“It helps me to hear from them,” Erskine said.

He’s happy to report each week has been better.

It amazes me, as a father and a journalist, that he was able to write anything at all.

But his columns honouring son Christopher are poignant, touching and, yes, funny.

In the aftermath, he wrote, “He leaves us that silly Siberian husky he brought home a year ago, the one that thinks there's a squirrel in every tree we pass.

“So frisky, hopeful and full of life. You know, like his owner was.”

I don’t know Erskine personally, and I only recently discovered his column, thanks to his new book (some of his collected works).

But after speaking with him on the phone about Daditude, I feel as if I owe him a great debt.

My fledgling parenting columns — published here, on my blog and in The Daily Courier newspaper — are a pale imitation of his The Middle Ages.

I began our interview by apologizing for unwittingly scalping his material.

“It’s all one big circle of ideas,” he said with a laugh.

It started 20 years ago.

He was a newspaper editor, but yearned to get back into writing. He struck upon his family column and started to write about sports.

Erskine, 61, searches for the lighter side of suburban life without getting sophomoric.

The column found an audience because he looks for the stories that connect us.

He wants you to read his column and put yourself in the starring role.

He likes to represent the dads cutting grass each weekend in dirty, old sneakers that used to drain jump shots at the buzzer in the glory days.

He chronicled life coaching soccer for his daughters, grown women who “make more than me” now.

His youngest son is 15 and is preparing for life after high school.

Because he’s come through the other side of raising kids, of course, I ask for advice.

Of course, he wouldn’t give it. “No, not at all,” he says, laughing again.

He does remind me that I’m in danger of missing it all, or of one day looking back at my three girls and struggling to remember them as babies.

It’s only natural to take advantage of it, but you don’t have to.

My girls are six, five and three years old.

“Those are golden years, all in their own.”

I know that, but it’s hard to remember it when you’re struggling to keep up with housework, yard work and homework.

I also need to remember, Erskine says, that my kids still consider me the “big, mythical creature in their lives” and to honour that.

By the time they’re 10, they’ll have figured out I’m just a sham.

Until then, “you soak up as much of that as you can.”

I’ll try.

Having met Chris Erskine, at least in a professional sense, will help.

I’ll think of the challenges he’s facing.

I’ll open his book when my girls are melting down (because “I want the Rapunzel with the long hair… no, not that one!”) and read a story about “Coach Erskine” grilling rib-eye steaks and remember how much I have ahead of me.

Heck, I have 20 years of column ideas ahead of me.

Mostly, though, I’ll remember Erskine saying that becoming a parent is “the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

I’ll remember there are plenty of people out there who have come through tragedy who want nothing more than for dads like me to hug my girls a little longer tonight.

People like Erskine.

“I’m a little envious,” he says.

Read more about Chris Erskine and Daditude online.



Win Mom's Day in 3 steps

Mother’s Day needs a new name.

After surveying mom friends on Facebook, it turns out Mother’s Day is really:

“Dad, you get to spend the day with your kids, and don’t dare call home asking for help or you’ll ruin the entire thing. I’ll be upstairs if you need me, and you won’t need me today. Capiche?”

Admittedly, that’s a lot harder to fit inside a greeting card, and you’d need roughly 3 ½ ice-cream cakes to write that in icing.

But I’m certain it’s the more accurate definition of Sunday’s festivities.

My high-school classmate, Christina, who is celebrating the release of her first children’s book, wants to share a breakfast of pancakes and berries with her children.

But she’d also enjoy “a good six hours to myself while the husband takes the kids and tires them out.”

Six? Six.

My friend, Heather, is mom to two active pre-teen boys. They play competitive soccer, and the whole family has trained in martial arts together.

Not to mention her husband, Aaron, is an accomplished curler who competes in national tournaments.

She’s the backbone of a family of four that also owns its own chiropractic clinic in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Needless to say, she has similar views on Mother’s Day.

She needs “some quiet, alone time when I don’t hear ‘mom ... mawm ... MOM!’"

I’m with her on that. My kids frequently walk past me as they shout for their mother.

Of course, it’s easy to miss me when I’m hiding under a blanket under the kitchen table, but I digress.

“I always feel so selfish when I say that, but it’s what I need,” Heather said.

It seems our friend, Jana, agrees: “Yesssss! Quiet time. Time to drink my coffee, hot.”

I double-checked that, and she did use five S’s in “yesssss.”

Jana has four beautiful, hockey-playing children, which seems like entirely too many for me.

But that’s why I think she deserves her next request: “Maybe daddy could take the kids out for the morning ... just a couple of hours.” 

If daddy wakes up at 9:30, would that still qualify?

Dads, note No. 1: take the kids to buy groceries.

Unfortunately, I had to delete Heather’s Facebook comments about ensuring everyone gets to enjoy Mother’s Day together.

“Maybe an extra day: one to be celebrated for all we do as moms, and then one to get a day off from being one. I do love my boys, but…”

You get one day, Heather. One!

That would ruffle the feathers of my friend, Alya, who is pushing the “every day is Mother’s Day” line of thinking.

I appreciate her saying she doesn’t need expensive gifts, though.

My kids spend countless minutes gluing tissue flowers to construction paper, and we can all agree that’s better than a $89 mani-pedi package any day.

Right? Ladies...?

My friend, Sandy, doesn’t need expensive gifts or brunch out, either.

I am a bit worried, however. She’s asking for a casual breakfast served on their deck followed by lounging “not necessarily by myself, but with the opportunity to ignore the bantering.”

Sandy, your girls are seven and nine years old; you can’t ignore the “banter!”

Her next, more specific request makes more sense to me: “a family bike ride and dinner with the ‘moms’ that are in my family followed by not making lunches, etc., for Monday.”

My high school friend, Heidi, summed it up for all dads everywhere: “Time not mothering.”

Dads, note No. 2: make the kids’ lunches.

My family members are responsible for my third suggestion.

Both my Aunty Fran and my cousin, Nicole, say they need healing hands.

Franny left a simple message: “massage.”

That’s probably because she’s less than four months away from marrying off her oldest daughter, and had no time to elaborate.

My cousin, Nic, wants “breakfast in bed — made by my husband and kids. With a cute card, handmade. Oh, and a foot rub.”

Now I know why she chose such unique baby names: Rightabella and Leftona.

Dads, note No. 3: handmade is better.

However, if you’re panicked, or your wife really does appreciate you planning ahead by buying something special, the New York Times has a Mother’s Day gift guide.

I’ve browsed it for you, and hand-selected the perfect gift: Avion Tequila.

Seriously. It’s in there.

It’s only $150 US, can be shipped overnight, and is aged 43 months (not 42 or 44).

Better than that, The Times says, “its tall crystal bottle is a statement in itself.”

Even better, then. It’s two gifts in one.

Throw some flowers in that crystal bottle and call it a day.

After flying solo serving breakfast, rubbing feet, and making lunches for the next day, you will likely need $150 worth of tequila.



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Life lessons from the kitchen

Those cooking shows are missing a key ingredient.

If you really want to determine the best cook on TV — or anywhere else for that matter — throw a live toddler into the kitchen.

That’s sure to separate the make-believe Michelin (star) men from the next Nigella Lawsons.

If that were the contest, I’m certain my wife and I would contend.

When our youngest — three-year-old Emmy — had just learned to climb (roughly nine minutes after she had learned to walk), we were regularly pulling her off  tables and chairs.

Sadly, nine minutes after that, she had outsmarted us.

When we were most vulnerable, she’d pounce.

Imagine heating cooking oil in a cast-iron pan to its precise smoking point as a sirloin rested on the counter.

Imagine getting ready to gently lay that hand-chosen piece of beefy perfection into the pan.

Imagine looking up and seeing a two-year-old child brandishing a butcher knife.

Gah!

There is no exaggerating here.

“Emmy! No!”

I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating: Raising children is a great way to prepare for raising puppies.

As quickly as we would shoo Emmy from dangers in the kitchen (or the bathroom or the workshop), she’d re-appear somewhere else.

As soon as I had wrested the knife from her hands and placed it even further away from her that day, she had emerged on the kitchen table.

That led me to re-arranging the cutlery and glasses back to their original places.

With my back turned, Emmy did her best Yoda impersonation with the garbage bag under the sink.

You know, the Yoda from “Empire Strikes Back,” tossing Luke Skywalker’s tools behind him as he searched for tasty snacks in Luke’s backpack.

If only I had an R2-D2 to zap her.

Those tiny little footfalls — pat-pat-pat-pat — soon became a trigger for us.

“Where’s she going? What’s she doing?”

But they were so quiet, you’d rarely hear her in transit. It wasn’t until the dreaded silence that we’d panic.

“Why is it so quiet?”

It felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Predator.” After decades of covert military operations and training, Arnie could sense the alien monster’s movements, but couldn’t see them.

Before you consider raising children, you should really try covert military operations and training.

At any rate, we’ve developed a trick for getting Emmy to stop and pay attention: ask her older sisters to help us prepare meals.

Then, she’s front and centre, pushing them out of the way so she can help (she’s the youngest of three girls, after all).

We haven’t given up on the idea of teaching our three little girls how to cook despite the screeching and pushing.

Cooking — and eating together — has always been important in my family.

I’m sure many of you feel the same way. Gathering for holiday dinners, birthday parties or just random, weeknight noshes are the memories I hold most dear from my childhood.

Our grandparents set the standard, never once opening a box of Rice-a-Roni in their lives.

They turned over sod to plant gardens and they saved pickle jars for canning season.

Heck, my grandmother saved those mesh onion bags, tied them together with rubber bands and made her own pot scrubbers.

It’s important we teach those values to our kids, and the reasons why are clear.

New York Times food writers Kj Dell’Antonia and Margaux Laskey have a great list of reasons on their blog.

  • Kids who cook become kids who eat: if they have made it, they’ll likely want to eat it (warning, this is true for mud pies and dandelion “salads”).
  • Kids who cook are brave: food in a restaurant is just food to kids, and they believe they can recreate anything. They take that confidence wherever they go.
  • Kids who cook are healthier: not only do they avoid processed food high in sugar and salt, they become adults who avoid fatty, salty, overly sweetened foods.
  • Kids who cook understand food: they’ll know the difference between MSG and a pinch of salt and that high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, agave nectar and molasses are all just sugars even if they’re listed separately on the back of a box.
  • Kids who cook stay close: admittedly, my family’s in Ottawa and I don’t see them as often as I’d like. But questions about why my muffins are lopsided, their go-to potato salad or how long they boil turkey bones for broth have me running to the phone to talk to my mom or dad.

I’m certain this will pay off soon.

Already my girls are well aware that if they want to be the next Master Chef Junior, they have to know Judge Daddy likes his steak medium rare.



More On Your Father's Side articles

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About the Author

David Trifunov is a proud father, humble author and recovering journalist.

Trifunov and his wife, Erin, are raising three little girls in Kelowna and enjoying every second of the trials, triumphs and tribulations.

As a humble author, he has written three middle-grade books for publisher Formac-Lorimer.

To pay the bills so he can raise those kids and write those books, Trifunov is a journalist with 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor.

His parenting column will appear regularly. davidtrifunov.ca



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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