On Your Father's Side  

'Grumpy' grocery shopper

One of my dad’s first jobs growing up in Southey, Sask., was to pick rocks.

Yes, that was a thing back then.

Farmers hired Rick, my uncle Jerry, and all their Li’l Rascal pals to kick through the dirt every summer flipping stones into a wagon (or whatever it was).

This was the times before rock-picking tractors, which I now realize is the equivalent of Artificial Intelligence robot machines replacing human labour, but I digress.

This seems unimaginable to me now. I had my share of hard jobs growing up — busboy, paperboy, stock boy (never pool boy, sadly) — but I never had to stoop in the unrelenting July sun rooting through Prairie dirt to quarantine quartz.

It was then my dad learned to eat like a death-row inmate. As part of the lucrative rock-picking trade, the farmer’s family would feed the boys lunch.

Every day at noon, the dinner bell would ring (maybe it was a giant, iron triangle), and every day the boys would come running.

Whatever was put in front of them, they’d eat.

Dad said he never liked peas as a kid until a bowl of hot, buttery green peas landed in front of him.

He ate every damn one of them, and to this day can be found using peas in place of his Cheerios when he’s feeling nostalgic (or when the Riders beat the Red Blacks).

It’s what I thought of this week when the generation gap between us widened slightly.

I took to Facebook on Sunday to vent about an experience grocery shopping.

My wife and I are frequent users of online grocery shopping, where we select our items from the website, shop up a few hours later, and someone brings them to our car.

OK, I get it, it’s the ultimate suburban, parental privilege. But, darn it, when something goes wrong it’s still really damn disappointing.

I had spent an hour filling out a $250 order consisting of several dozen items.

Six minutes before I was able to pick it up, the store called to tell me their computers had crashed and my order wouldn’t be ready.

“Could you please go online and reschedule?” the apologetic woman on the other end of the phone said.

“Sure, stuff happens,” I replied.

But by the time I was back online to reschedule the order, the store had cancelled it on the other end.

It was gone; zapped into oblivion.

Back on the phone I went to ask questions of the store in question.

The only way forward was to redo the entire thing and spend another hour wasting my time.

I didn’t swear at the customer service person. There was no ranting, or raving, just a simple request that management understand what an inconvenience it was to my family of five, especially a few short hours before I’d be making three little girls lunches on a Monday morning.

My Facebook friends were split, some sympathizing and others -- like my dad -- telling me to grow a pair.

“Tell me if I have this right,” said my dad, whose told my girls to call him Grumpy. “You are impressed that you haven’t thrown a fit because someone is offering to shop for all your groceries; you are paying them nothing to do this; but you have to give them the list twice. If ever there were a cause for rage, this must be it.”

Now, he needs to get his facts straight. I’m the journalist in the family, I know all about facts. He’s just the uber successful math genius.

I pay these people $5, thank you, not to mention the exorbitant markups they charge on things like… peas. But that’s not the point, either, is it?

Wait, is there a point to all this?

Oh, right, I remember: if you’re going to advertise a service, and you can’t honour that promise, why do it at all?

Coresight Research in the U.S. expects 70 per cent of Americans will use online grocery shopping by 2022.

It’s a market worth $20 billion.

Those adorable millenials use it most often, with 60 per cent of them shopping for food online this year already.

You and I will be bombarded by retailers encouraging us to shop for food online.

It won’t go away, and one day my children will look at me, wide-eyed, when I tell them of the times we shopped for food ourselves.

You know, before the AI robot machines did it all for us.


Dad's kindergarten anxiety

Baby Betty needs to eat by 4:45 p.m. or she turns into Rosemary’s Baby.

It’s always been our tried-and-true explanation for sudden, unexplained temper tantrums.

She wasn’t happy in June at the end of preschool, and we chalked it up to hunger.

There were several epic emotional outbursts as the last school year ended: shouting, refusing to eat, lashing out at her sisters.

She is our middle child, and, normally, she is happy to embrace her role as peacemaker between her siblings.

It made the behaviour that much more confusing to us, and we searched for answers to explain it.

We were baffled when serving dinner early one night didn’t stem the tide.

It was Betty herself who provided the answer. We were talking about kindergarten and how she was going to know so many kids, plus her older sister, once she walked through the doors at Glenmore Elementary.

She smiled politely, because we’d gone through this song and dance with her numerous times before.

Her next question put her world into greater perspective: “Will I be going to kindergarten tomorrow?”

Gah! Of course!

She’s only five, and she has no concept of time.

While it’s only a pet theory, I chalked up her sudden sullenness to anxiety.

Heck, she’s my child and she would have earned it honestly.

“Oh, of course not,” we told her. “First, we’ll go camping. Then we go to Saskatoon for the wedding. You have art camp and then it will be La-La’s birthday party. There’s all of that, and then you’ll get ready for kindergarten.”

It seemed to ease her mind, because we’ve been blessed with our Betty back all summer.

Now, with her first taste of kindergarten a few hours away (as I write this), she seems to be a little anxious again.

You can’t blame the little ones.

No matter where we go — groceries, soccer practice, ballet practice, holidays — people see her and ask her two questions:

“How old are you, little miss?”

“Are you excited for kindergarten?”

She’s likely internalized this repeatedly, and probably is struggling to process the emotions of kindergarten.

Betty has watched her older sister go through kindergarten and Grade 1 with great triumph, trial and tribulation.

Of course, that would make a person anxious.

I was an only child, so I’ve spent the majority of my life in blissful ignorance.

She gets a front-row seat to what’s coming, good and bad.

If La-La goes on a field trip, she talks about the day she will ride the bus to the museum or Bear Creek Park.

If La-La screams and cries because learning French is too hard, Betty wonders what manner of torture we plan on inflicting her with.

Isn’t anxiety just an adult invention? Do kids live with anxiety?

Boy howdy, do they ever.

Our children are human, and anxiety is a form of stress all humans use in some form.

Kidshealth.org reminds us anxiety is a reaction to the normal, ingrained fight-flight response.

It’s when anxiety becomes overwhelming or develops further more serious symptoms.

We talk more and more about mental health in our teens and adults, but we shouldn’t forget that it might be starting much earlier than that.

Thankfully, our educators are prepared.

Betty will attend kindergarten for an hour today, Thursday and Friday. She will go for two hours three days next week, and then (finally!) she will attend full-time.

Teachers mingle with the kids, assess them, and then group them into classes and pair them with a teacher that best suits them.

It all sounds very touchy-feely, but — really — it makes sense. Yes, parents have to arrange a ridiculous number of deliveries/collections in this short amount of time, but I’m certain it is paying off handsomely.

If you’re still looking for more, Childmind.org has some interesting strategies for helping families cope with anxious moments.

Perhaps the most important one, for me, is “model healthy ways of handling anxiety.”

I did my best to remember that as I hid my tears as Betty let go of my hand and walked into the classroom for the first time today.

Birthday's slippery slope

Canadians spent an average of $1,500 each at Christmas last year – from gas and groceries to presents and trips — meaning the winter holiday season generates billions for the economy.

But what’s the second busiest “spending event” after Dec. 25? It usually shapes up something like this: Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Easter.

At least if you believe American stats (those north of the border are harder to track).

But how much do we spend on birthdays, especially kids’ birthdays?

After celebrating LaLa’s seventh birthday on the weekend, I estimated Canadian parents shell out $8 gazillion annually.

Mind you, I’m horrible at math, so I dug a little deeper and did some figuring.

StatsCan says there were 5.8 million Canadian children 14 and younger at the last census.

If Canadian families spend about $500 on each kid, we could safely predict an economic impact of $2.9 billion annually.

If I have three daughters in my house ages seven and younger, you could safely predict my household was responsible for roughly $3 million of that total.

You’re welcome, Canadian economy.

We never plan to throw lavish affairs, but good luck shutting that part of your brain off when kids are involved.

Heck, this year we thought we’d outsmarted everyone.

The plan was, tell all of LaLa’s friends that she really wanted to visit Atlantis Waterslides in Vernon.

We’ve never been, and this ploy accomplished three things for us: kept kids out of our house, kept the presents to zero (if you pay admission, we don’t expect gifts), and kept the number of kids we’d have to feed to a minimum (we could at least throw some pizza at them).

Funny thing is, people actually like our family. Who knew?

That meant rather than having three or four kids say, “it’s a fair drive, and it costs a fair bit of money, but OK,” we had five families and 12 kids jump aboard.

Ha, ha, ha!

Guess what happened then?

The reverse-jet-stream-micro-climate-funnel-inversion thing happened just as the entire province caught fire, and Kelowna enjoyed the worst air quality on the planet for two days.

Wow, what a smack in the …

We didn’t panic. H2O has waterslides, so let’s just tell people to meet us there.

Have you ever seen the movie House Party?

It’s awful, but you get where this is headed: two nerds throw a party, and 2,000 kids knock on the door.

H20 tried to throw a quiet house party away from the smoke last weekend.

When we arrived, there were 500 people inside. When we left a couple hours later, the ticker was at 650 and we spotted two kids hauling in a keg.

It all wraps into a nice little bow when you learn we invited everyone (in our party) back to our house.

Somebody had to eat the snacks, cupcakes, pizza, and juice boxes for 15 kids.

Why do we do it, us parents?

Kid pressure? Lack of sleep? Lack of iron?

Thank goodness we have a great group of peers, who all seem to be on similar pages.

Most of the parties we’ve been to have trended to DIY.

There have been gift exchanges (where everyone brings a used toy from home, and swaps at the party), toonie parties (one to spend, save and share), and fiver parties ($5 for the five-year-old).

One mom – bless her soul – put mashed sweet potato in her dark chocolate cake to make it less sweet and healthier.

The kids had to chew so much it also shut them up for, like, 15 minutes.

At LaLa’s birthday party, parents opted to stay and chat.

It seemed like the smoke and the suddenly changing plans kept everyone together most of the day.

We ordered some pizza and had a drink together while the kids watched a movie downstairs.

I guess that’s the lesson here: don’t over-plan.

Our “destination birthday” for a few friends that turned into an at-home extravaganza was probably the most enjoyable birthday we’ve thrown (and it cost us way less than $500).

Now, I wonder if my wife would mind if I suddenly planned Christmas at the waterslides.


A father's lament

When I took my oldest daughter’s hand and walked upstairs, time suddenly came rushing up behind me in one furious stroke.

I’d walked the stairs at my uncle Rob’s place in Saskatoon hundreds of times: for Christmases, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, christenings and funerals.

Sixteen years ago, I’d been there acting as godfather for Rob’s youngest daughter, my cousin Hannah. (That’s godfather in the biblical sense; I wasn’t there to place any horse heads in anyone’s bed, although I’m not afraid to be her enforcer...)

If you had told me then I’d eventually be father to three girls, I’d have probably laughed myself unconscious.

It’s not that I didn’t want kids, but I certainly wasn’t on any path that seemed destined to produce a family.
But there we all were on the weekend, back in my hometown to watch Rob’s oldest daughter, Rebecca, get married.

It was as if I were standing in the middle of a vortex, half a life behind me and half ahead of me.

How long before I’m not just holding my six-year-old daughter’s hand, but walking her down the aisle?

Having children does weird and wonderful things to your brain, but twisting your sense of time must be the most unsettling.

It was obvious during a drive through my old neighbourhood.

We drove past my grandparent’s wartime house on Elm Street, St. Frances School and half a dozen other faceless, nameless landmarks that mean more to me than I’d care to admit.

I’m genuinely disappointed the Exhibition started the day after we left town, because to know me as a child is to know the Saskatoon Ex.

Of course, I’d done that sightseeing tour countless times since we moved from Saskatoon to Ottawa in 1986, but showing my kids gave it new meaning.

My wife compares that feeling to seeing ghosts. She asked me if I could see myself, walking a street or riding a bike.

It’s certainly close to that, but it more feels like I’ve suddenly occupied another person’s body.

I have their memories, but it wasn’t me all those years ago riding my bike to the playground or walking home from school for lunch.

These are elusive memories. They are shadows or whispers.

Perhaps it’s because life today is visceral:

  • children
  • mortgages
  • retirement
  • college funds
  • and, most recently, writing a will.

Everything we experience today comes with its very own punch to the gut whereas our idyllic childhood homes cushion and cajole us forward.

But hazy childhood memories are wondrously clear compared to what you see on the other side of the vortex:

  • nothing.

Looking forward through time is, of course, impossible. 

My future could easily include a new job in a new city as it could retiring in Kelowna.

I could drop dead in five years from a massive heart attack, or I could wither away surrounded by friends, family and adoring fans at the ripe old age of 101 (I’ll choose the latter just in case the spirits are reading).

In 16 more years, will my children be leaving home? Will marriage still be a “thing?” (Maybe weddings at city hall and dinner at Wendy’s will be popular).

My head spins at the very thought of it all.

I would never have guessed my god-daughter would have graduated high school at 16 and be contemplating a path to medical school.

It’s that kind of thinking that scares me as a father: I just hope my kids are healthy and happy. 

I don’t want to jinx anything by wishing them a career as a pro golfer or as CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Heck, my chest is getting tight just writing about it.

Damn it, the spirits aren’t reading.

Well, at least if I go now, the girls can use the life insurance money to buy the best damn wedding reception Wendy’s can supply.

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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

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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