Sweet and Sour

It’s family weekend here in Calgary – that time, once a year, when teachers convene for two days just before ‘Family Day’, resulting in a 5 day stretch without any school to separate you from the people you love.

Maybe that’s just my take on it.

This constant state of togetherness brings out the worst in us Johnsons, heightened by my inevitable failure to plan something for us to do because I’m under the misapprehension that being together for 16 hours a day will be something akin to a scene from Little Women; a steady stream of board games and art and literature. With cookies baking in the oven and a stew bubbling on the stove.

But at our house, the scene bears closer resemblance to an episode of Roseanne, with an ongoing tally of brotherly meltdowns and perpetually rolling eyes, all washed down with a chorus of ‘this isn’t fair’ and ‘you’re the worst mother in the world.’

I think it was a year and a half ago that I mentioned we were in a sweet spot of raising kids; a time when the intensive phase of keeping babies and toddlers alive had given way to a phase with independent, interactive and mostly enjoyable children.

It was a very good phase. One that, in recent months, has been reconstituted as we find ourselves the proud owners of an almost 11 year old and a 7.5 year old.

I recall something shifted with the Gort around the time he turned 8, when he became a slightly more challenging member of our cast. In the last few weeks, I sense the same has begun to happen with the Hen. Prematurely, as luck would have it.

Take a premature ‘case of the eights’, add to that the presence of a pre-adolescent and, let’s just say, the drama quotient in our home would have anyone convinced we’re filming a documentary for E!

Whenever I meet a mom with three boys, especially one whose boys are older than mine, I grill her with questions about what it’s like and how she survived in an effort to prepare myself for the years to come. I talked to such a saint mom at a barbeque a few months ago. One whose three sons are firmly ensconced in teenagedom.

I said something like ‘what’s it like?’ And she said something like ‘it’s awful. They’re awful to each other. And they say terrible things – to their brothers, to me. Sometimes I find myself crying ‘why are you being so mean?’

Some people might not value such an honest response, but I actually do. I like to know what’s coming down the pipe (even if I may insist, smugly, to myself, that it ‘won’t happen to me’).

That way, when it turns out I’m not immune to the ordinary trials of the three-boy-life, after ‘it’ has already come down the pipe and hit me square in the face, I might remember the conversation and go ‘oh, riiiiiiight. She said this would happen.

I’ve found myself remembering  that conversation in recent weeks, when it seems like the boys wake up irritated with each other, come home irritated with each other, and go to bed irritated with each other. (It goes without saying that they also spend most of the day irritated with me.) But having said that, I’m fully aware that this, this phase we find ourselves in at the moment, is but the training ground for things to come.

Hence my latest tendency to refer to this moment in my parenting life as the ‘Sweet and Sour’ phase.

We have the aforementioned irritations. And the Oscar-worthy dramatic outbursts. But I’m still buying Lego sets. Stuffed animals still make an appearance at bed time.  I can still convince them (admittedly with a lot of complaining) to join me on errands. And the Brothers Johnsonov can still bond over episodes of Scooby Do and express collective excitement when I unexpectedly find ‘The Nut Job’ at the library. ‘We’ve seen a lot of previews for this,’ Percy exclaims, as though I’ve just struck movie gold. (Rottentomatoes gave it 10% on the tomatometer. ‘I’d give it 100%,’ the Hen disagreed. ‘Well, maybe like a 70%,’ the Gort reasoned.)

For now (for the most part), they’re still each other’s only best friends, and are content to huddle together on the couch around the ipad.


And they will still, all three, spend a bit of time at the playground.

We had another gem of a day, weather-wise, on Friday. (Calgary has really tried to woo me this winter.) Late afternoon, at the Gort’s suggestion, we walked over to the playground by the school. Jackets and boots and socks were abandoned as the boys climbed and chased to their hearts’ content. The light was so perfect I actually ran back to the house to get my camera. Convinced I’d regret it if I didn’t document this particular moment in time.

As I snapped away, I felt keenly aware that I was, in some way, capturing the end of something.




An hour (maybe even two) later we walked home.

The long way.

It was one of the best afternoons we’d had in a very long time.*


*For the sake of honesty – lest I misremember this anecdote later in my life – I need to also mention that one boy stayed behind at the playground, refusing to walk home with us. And by dinner time his behavior had escalated into something that appeared to warrant an exorcist.






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