Friday, April 17, 2015

Ice Cream with Racism on Top

In this morning's breakfast discussion I learned that a boy who had been expelled from school last year told my boys 'I hate black people and I love white people' as they walked to get ice cream at our local DQ. Huh? Why had he chosen to call out the colour of their skin? Have we really not progress so that our kids can escape racism and discrimination?

After getting their ice cream and heading out the door, both Ty and Jayden heard him say 'hey black kids, you guys walk out first before the white kids'.

Yes, my kids had been a target of racism in our own community. Not only did this kid expose my boys to discrimination in their own neighbourhood, which is supposed to be safe for them, they actually made my Jayden dislike his own skin colour. 

When I asked them how it made them feel, Jayden said 'I wanted to change my skin colour'. My heart sank.
My boy and his beautiful brown skin!

After my heart recovered, I told my sweet kid that his skin is beautiful and perfect and that he needed to change nothing at all. In fact, it is the boy with the horrible comments who has some changing to do. 

What should I do? I know I can't protect them from everything in life that hurt, but I'd like to sometimes. We can continue to celebrate differences and diversity in our's our family culture and philosophy to be accepting of others across race, language, abilities, gender and sexual orientation. We talk about this all the time and I'm so glad that they choose to tell me about this experience so that we could again discuss race, racism and their own cultural identity. 

My heart aches just a little bit today and mama bear is on high alert. While I know this boy's name and I'm tempted to camp out at DQ every day so I can follow him home to talk to his parents, maybe the right thing to do is to focus on making sure my own kids feel even more confident in their own beautiful brown skin.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Planning a Couple's Weekend in Niagara Falls

When was the last time you and your husband took a trip together? I know, right? Almost a foreign concept in many homes. Taking the time to think about your relationship or even plan something romantic is always short lived when you're a busy parent. We couldn't agree more! It had been a very long time since Paul and I had a chance to get away without the boys and man, did we ever have the most incredible and romantic weekend ever! 

With only two nights in Niagara Falls, we wanted to cram everything in! We literally had the time of our lives, laughing, talking and actually feeling young again (something I really needed after my birthday!). Having visited Niagara with the boys, we wanted to take the opportunity to do things that we've never done or can't do with the kids.

Here's our recipe for the perfect romantic getaway weekend in Niagara;

Find a central hotel
We have stayed at the Niagara Falls Courtyard Marriott before and we love that it's within walking distance to everything awesome in the Falls (no need to move the car and pay for parking). You can choose a fancier highrise hotel in the region, but the costs can be really outrageous. We'd prefer to spend our money to shop or gamble! With a Keg in the lobby, lovely rooms, reasonable rates and even the chance to upgrade to a suite with a sunken tub (we *may* have had a bubble bath), it's a great choice for a couple's weekend.
See a show at the Fallsview Casino
Paul had booked tickets to see "Flashdance" at the Fallsview Casino as my Valentine's Day gift, so we have been looking forward to the show for a couple of months. He's a smart guy, because he bought them for my birthday night and promised a special romantic weekend away together! The theatre was fabulous and hosts really great musical guests, as well as shows. We were really impressed with the calibre of the dancing and singing and would definitely go again (without the kiddos)!
Go Gambling at the Casino!
There are two casinos in The Falls, but we went to the new Fallsview Casino to try our luck at Roulette (Paul's new fave). With a cool new electronic version, we used touchscreens to bet on our favourite numbers...and we won over $250! Just set your limit (ours was $50) and you can still have a blast! 
Go Clubbing
Crazy, right? When we were first dating we LOVED to go to clubs in Toronto. We loved music and dancing together, just watching the people and feeling the vibe was what we did every weekend in those days. As we left the Casino after the show, we walked into DragonFly Nightclub. While the music and vibe might be a little different 20 years later, my man still has his awesome dance moves. We had a blast (and maybe some tequila)!

Shop 'til you Drop There are enough "man benches" for most husbands to have a break while their wives take the credit card and hit the stores, but in our household, we BOTH love to shop...especially together! In an effort to get some new clothes for our new healthier bodies, we planned a day at the incredible NEW Outlet Collections at Niagara-on-the-Lake. Tommy Hilfiger, Marshalls, Cole Haan, Old Navy, Michael Kors and even White House/Black Market were all stops along the way. Our trips to Niagara used to involve a drive into Buffalo, but with the exchange on the dollar and most stores now north of the border, there's no need! We love the Outlet Perks to get discounts at tons of our fave retailers and we definitely shopped 'til we dropped!

Book a dinner at a Niagara-on-the-Lake winery
There are some incredible wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake and we've been to the stunning Chateau des Charmes and Jackson-Triggs long before the kids were born and really enjoyed wine tasting. For this trip, there was a special spring menu tasting at Peller Estates and we booked it with our winnings from the casino! In the exclusive dining room with only 8 other couples, we tasted delicious cuisine paired with the perfect wines. It was a really unique and special experience that ended with roasting ice-wine infused homemade marshmallows in the fire pit.
What an incredible weekend to reconnect, recharge and relive our early days as a couple! You've got to make the time for your own romantic won't be disappointed in Niagara Falls!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Birthday Lessons this Year

Tomorrow I turn another year older, but am I really another year wiser?  

Our year has certainly had its ups and downs, but I almost feel like this year, I've changed and grown far more than I did when I turned 40. In so many ways, I learned a lot about myself this year, started to feel more comfortable in my own skin, followed my passion and smiled more. So I thought I'd share a few things that I've learned along my year journey to this 42nd birthday;

There is such a thing as a "perfect" job! I did find a role that's fulfilling, feeds my need to give back and help others and also one that surrounds me with amazing women who inspire and support me as well as value all the passion that I bring to my work. Best of all, I work 5 minutes from home and get mornings and after school with my boys!

Friends can be family and family can be friends. Our "blended" "Howilton" family has sure had a blast this year. We've helped each other on PA Days, driven each other's kids to  hockey and even ate our way around Niagara Falls together. Our kids text each other, argue like siblings and our hubbies take turns being the "best husband ever" for both of us. We still find something to talk about everyday, support one another at all costs and we're each other's biggest cheerleaders. We're family. After losing and then reconnecting with another friend this year, I've truly learned to appreciate the space that each of my friends hold in my heart and in my life, allowing each of them to be different but equally special.

I've admitted that my grief has changed me. Forever. It's true. Just as Zack forever changed me as a mother, wife and human being, so has grief. I think I've been waiting for sadness to pass, for the tide to change, but this year I think I've come to terms with the fact that it won't ever pass. Life will never be the same and maybe never have the pure joy I once felt. Sadness is permanently tattooed on my heart and creeps into every day, every celebration or memory. I've learned that my grief is a journey that I will forever be on and one that has just become part of who I am. I need to get used to sadness. I guess it's my new "normal". Some days I might wear my loss on my sleeve and other times, I might tuck it into my pocket and not share it with anyone else. I'm okay with the fact that my heart might never heal or feel whole again. Losing Zack is part of my story, part of who I am, as so many other experiences have also shaped me. Instead of running away from it, this coming year, I want to embrace the new me, accept it and move forward in life without feeling like I have to let go.

You must find help if your child is struggling. My poor Jayden has had a tough time at school since my last birthday. His grief had really become an obstacle for his learning and even his behaviour. It literally broke my heart seeing him finally grieve for Zack in such a profound way. It hit him hard and we loved him through each meltdown with cuddles and sweet memories of his twin. We've contacted several community agencies, school supports and even spoken to our pediatrician to help him with some emotional and academic challenges that are happening at school. Mama Bear has been out in full force this year and it's allowed me to advocate for my sweet Jayden, just like I did for his brother. I'm good at it and it has shown Jayden that I'm willing to do everything I can to help him. He can see that I'm trying to make things easier for him and I know he appreciates it. Not taking no for an answer and reaching out to get support has not been easy, but it's been worth it. We've begun to see amazing changes in Jayden and we are so proud of him!  He has moved past the worst of his grief and hasn't really had a breakdown in a long time. He's also working hard to be more focused at school, less emotional and moody, in general but just as cool, creative and funny as he's always been. Having gotten some parenting support, I took a look at my own role in his behaviour. I had to be really honest about whether I could be more patient and really help him through some of his emotions. It's not easy to realize that you have work to do as a parent, but I love him more than enough to do the work. The biggest lesson for me has been that just because your child CAN be independent, doesn't mean they should be. I know that I often let Jayden play on his own, because he enjoyed it and I had things to do. Now I realize that he needs more time with me and I'm loving every second of him kicking my butt at Go Fish, watching him do something he loves or even playing WWE together on Xbox. We are closer than ever and he's happier and feeling successful. That makes for a very happy mommy! 

I know that I never want my relationship with Ty to change. I'm going to hold onto it tightly and value it every chance I get. We have a closeness that is incredible. He tells me everything and way too much and I love it all. We've gone from me holding him in my arms at night to our evening snuggles where I fit perfectly in HIS arms. We are so similar and I find that by talking to him and hearing his worries, I learn even more about myself. He's caring, forgetful and smart. His sensitivity scares and amazes me and I hope he stays as wonderful as he is, always.
I adore my husband. Not only does he get hotter each year, he does all that he can for the three of us, even though he's incredibly busy with work and travelling. He appreciates all that I do for our family, and actually tells me (amazing, I know!). This year we learned to make more time for each other with a few date nights and he has even planned a birthday weekend in Niagara! Despite the fact that Paul's been out of town a lot, we talk more (when he doesn't fall asleep from exhaustion), laugh more, hold hands and kiss often (to the disgust of our kiddos), fight less and we are closer than ever. After almost 15 years of marriage and 20 years of loving each other through all that life has thrown us, without a shadow of a doubt, he's the only one for me. 

My parents are getting older and I want to savour every minute with them. Having just spent a week away with them, I realize more and more how important it is to take the time to call them every day. I have a crazy schedule but most mornings I call them on the way to work and I love that the two of them both jump on the phone to hear about my insane morning of lost shoes and broken backpacks or about the plans for my day at work. I listen intently as they tell me about how busy their day of volunteering on far too many committees will be and I worry if one of them has a health concern. There was a time that I let my life get in the way of hearing their voices, but not anymore. It's a privilege to still be able to talk to them every day and I'm not going to take it for granted.

I don't need or want a glass of wine every night or even every weekend. Shocker? I'm shocked too. I was the one who was tagged in wine jokes on Facebook and laughed about it being "wine o'clock". I had gotten into such a habit of visiting the LCBO each week and drinking my favourite Chardonnay most nights that I hadn't stopped to see if I even wanted a drink anymore. I know I wasn't addicted to wine, but to the habit. Since January 5th, I've maybe had 4 glasses of wine (only while on vacation) and I haven't looked back or even struggled quitting cold turkey. I might have a drink or two when I reach my weight loss goal, but for now, I'm enjoying my healthier habits (and a crap load of water each day) for a while.

I've learned that I CAN stick to a diet and weight loss plan without sabotaging my hard work! What a powerful lesson to know that I don't need to eat carbs or bread to feel comforted. My struggle with weight has been life-long and maybe, just maybe, at 42, I've found the secret to help get me to the weight I was meant to be. I didn't honestly think that I could get to one of my long term goal weights, but I'm only 4lbs away and feeling great! Clothes feel better, shopping is fun, and I'm not going to stop until I'm at the new goal I have in mind. The secret? No "reward" meals or "treats" on the weekends or vacations to slow me down. Lots of water, no alcohol, fruit once a day and very little carbs (no wheat for me). With the support of Carrie and some other incredible women on the same crazy ride, I've lost over 25lbs since January and I'm feeling more comfortable and beautiful everyday.

I'm blessed to have my family. It's simple. We've had our challenges through the years, but when I tucked my boys in at night I realize that I am so lucky to be their mom and to have married their incredible daddy. We cry together, we laugh together and mostly we treasure our time together. 

Here's to another year of possibilities, fun family memories and learning even more about myself! Happy Birthday to me!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

This Week's Sex Question from my Tween Son

I'm really fortunate to have a very special and close relationship with my tween son, Ty. At 11 years old, he and I are totally similar in some of the best ways and even some of the ways I wish I could shield him from (my ability to worry all the time).

Our late night talks are the times when he can share his worries, download some stress from friends or school and when he can ask me important questions. 
Me and My Guy

There was the night he asked me what rape was, when I told him I would have to tell his friend's mom about inappropriate topics on Instagram and of course when he asked me to explain the word "dildo". OY.

As Easter approached, I had my answer all ready about whether the Easter Bunny is in fact real or if it was us hiding the eggs. He already knows about the Tooth Fairy, and likely the Bunny too, but I pretty sure he just doesn't want to give up the mini eggs (can you blame him?).

All ready to answer the burning Easter question, we had one of our heart to heart chats just before bedtime. Paul was away and I had just snuggled with Jayden, so we really had time to catch up. I could tell that he had a lot on his mind and was hoping he could open up to me. I wasn't quite prepared for the topic of the discussion, so I had to wing it.

Ty: 'Did you and Daddy have sex before you got married'
Me: Gulp- 'um, yes. We were older, in our 20s, very in love and knew we would get married.'
Ty: 'Did you have sex with anyone else?'
Me: 'I'm happy to honestly answer your questions when you are older.'

I really struggled to hold off on answering part of the question, but knew that it was the right thing to do. After further discussion, we found out that watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had precipitated these questions. 

While I'm going to try to answer everything that comes at me, with total honesty, I also think that timing is everything. He's years away from making these decisions, so I'll save my "honesty" until the answers are far more relevant.

In the meantime, we're going to take a little break from watching Fresh Prince!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Making Science Fun for Kids

It's been tough year with Jayden at school as he's being really challenged to do his best and focus in the classroom. This means that I try everything I can to make learning fun when it comes to homework time.

This year, I've studied for several grade two science tests with Jayden. I can very clearly label the water and wind cycle and man, do I ever know the properties of solids, liquids and gases! Some of our best homework moments have been doing science work. He loves science almost as much as his older brother. Not only is it cool, kids just love to know what makes the world work, how things in nature happen and how to create their very own experiments. We have tons of fascinating books about science and they were all Ty's favourites, as a little kid. He loved reading about animals, thunder and lightening and of course, dinosaurs!

One of our favourite things to do together is go to the Ontario Science Centre and we've seen some incredible exhibits over the last year or two. The Human Body and the Science of Rock n Roll were just two of our adventures there.

Now you can take a break from watching Full House with the kids and have science fun with these titles from Netflix Canada! We absolutely love "The Magic School Bus", "Sid the Science Kid" and just recently watched "Let Your Mind Wonder" for the first time. Kids love to see science come to life in these shows for little and big kids.

For Your Little kids:
1. The Magic School Bus Gains Weight
2. Fetch! with Ruff
3. Animal Mechanicals, Balloon Volcano Island
4. Sid the Science Kid

And Your Big Kids:
1. Nova: Hunting the Elements
2. Cosmos
3. Deadliest Volcanoes: Nova
4. Let Your Mind Wonder

Want to have more family science fun? 
Enter below for your own family pass to visit the 
Ontario Science Centre in Toronto*!

Disclosure: Yay! I am part of the Netflix stream team (#StreamTeam) and have received product and a subscription to Netflix in exchange for writing monthly posts.  Already a huge Netflix fan, this is a pretty sweet deal!

*Family Pass is for 4 guests to visit the Ontario Science Centre before December 31st, 2015. No transportation included. Non-transferable. Contest ends April 5th, 2015 at 11:59pm.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Would you have told his mom?

I had to make a judgement call today. It was one of those moments as a parent, when you have to decide whether what is right is more important than the bond of secrecy between you and your child.

Today I told another mom about the sexual innuendo and language that her 11 year old son was texting Ty (and others) and posting on Instagram. It went a little something like this....

I've recreated this conversation to be similar to the original and protect the names involved.

When I talked to Ty about it, he already knew what I had seen. He was embarrassed that his friend was talking like that (he really was) and wasn't sure how to handle it. I was willing to be the bad guy and suggested that he tell this buddy that I had seen it and had asked him to stop or I would have to discuss this with his mom.
Today, we arrived at a birthday party for another buddy of Ty's and I knew this kid would be there. The poor guy didn't even look me in the eye and looked very nervous, as I introduced myself to his mom. I have no doubt at all that he is a great kid and a terrific friend to Ty, but maybe he just needs a reminder of what language is acceptable and the implications of his behavious online. 

While I knew that telling this mom about her son's language online could have gone either way, I was willing to risk it because I would want to know if the roles were reversed. I would want the chance to talk to my kids about what's appropriate and how to conduct themselves with others and online. Thankfully, this particular mom and I had a fabulous discussion about the struggles that kids and parents are up against with today's influences; video games, tv shows and don't even get me started on the lyrics on the hottest songs- sex is everywhere (which is why I'm thrilled that the new sex ed curriculum will be addressing some of these topics, earlier). This mom wasn't involved in what he was doing online, but she had an older daughter who watched out for her brother and she had very strict rules. She confessed that lately, she had been getting suspicious that these rules were being broken. She was really glad that I had shared the information about what I read and was planning to talk to him next week. We exchanged phone numbers to keep in touch and even planned to have a date with both of our boys together. I was so relieved that I had talked to her and that it had gone so well.

I'm blessed to have a wonderful and trusting relationship with both of our boys who are discovering the new online world with their friends. And as much as I trust them, we also have a policy in our house that Paul and I have ultimate control over their devices and can check any and all social media (they're on Instagram) or texts at any given time. While we've made our rules for Instagram really clear, they are kids, they make mistakes (sneaking behind the scenes and posting direct messages to each other on IG) and they're still learning about online etiquette. It's MY job to help him navigate this world, so we do spot checks all the time. Sometimes we find nothing and sometimes we find something concerning that needs a discussion. Sometimes Ty just needs a bit of guidance on how to interpret a post or even how to reply, and I love that he comes to me for advice. This means that unlike tons of parents, I know EVERYONE they are interacting with and EVERYTHING that's been posted. Since having had to explain so many new words to our son over the years, like what "rape" meant, I want to make sure that Ty has the right answers from me, if he has any questions at all. 

I've yet to hear if this boy has spoken to Ty about what his mom knows and I'm hopeful that it won't impact their friendship. So for now, I'm feeling glad that my new friend and I had this important discussion and that maybe, with a little help from our parent friends, we can be more aware and figure out how to teach this stuff to our kids.

So, what do you think? Did I do the right thing? Would you tell or keep it to yourself? Would you want to know if it was your child? 

What would you do?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What makes the WWE Live Events so Family-Friendly?

We love to try new experiences with the boys and we have been really fortunate to take them to some pretty awesome events and shows over the last few years. With a crazy busy schedule, we really make family-time and opportunities to make family memories, a top priority.  So I was hesitant when I was offered tickets to the WWE. My first thought was who I was going to get to babysit the kids but then I talked to so many people who had attended shows when THEY were kids. After looking into the event coming to Toronto, I found out that the WWE events are not only affordable for families (tickets start at $20), they are also a totally kid-friendly event. This was something I wanted to experience with my boys!
The show taught me a few terms like arm drag, hip heist, guillotine, double leg takedown and body slams and of course it didn’t take us long to know who the bad guys were (the entire audience boos) and who we should cheer on (“RKO” for Randy Orton). My boys were yelling “top rope” and “we want tables” with the rest of the audience, when they thought chairs were not quite enough for Daniel Bryan to take down Kane.  I learned the names of the key Superstars and the kids were really excited to see their heroes take the ring right in front of them. Sure, they’re beating each other up, not dissimilar to my own boys when they wrestle at home, but it’s a show, entertainment at its best! WWE encourages families to watch together, talk about it and be sure to tell the kids to “not try this at home”.

So, when did the WWE get so PG? Paul used to go to the Wrestlemania events back in the day when he could cheer on Hulk, but boy have things changed. Since the shows inception, over 30 years ago, the WWE has evolved to become a fabulously cost-effective night out for the family (I saw kids from 3 years old and up!) and an experience you and the kids will never forget. Coupled with the hype and excitement in the arena is the opportunity to engage with your favourite Superstars on social media too! Tweet using a particular hashtag and you could vote how the Divas will entertain you. Share and tag your photos on Instagram or tweet a photo to your favourite wrestler and you might just get ‘favourited’ and retweeted like I did.

Some tips for your first WWE Experience;
1.       Take a trip to your local dollar store and get the kids to help make some signs to hold up at the show. Do your research so you know who will be there and what wrestler’s names to post on the sign. Jayden (age 7), was pretty excited to see Randy Orton!

2.       Watch some YouTube videos or the Pay-per-View Wrestlemania network (now available in Canada) to help the kids understand what they will be seeing and to learn who the key players are at the show. There are even some free apps to get you in the mood and tips for parents
3.       It’s really crowded, so try to get there early so that the little ones aren’t too overwhelmed. Buy your snacks early and try to take bathroom breaks during the show and not intermission (line ups were crazy).
4.       Get the kids to save up their allowance! Our boys took $30 each to spend on something special to remember the event. There are all of your favourite wrestling superstars on t-shirts, flashing gold necklaces, wristbands, and signed posters.
5.       My boys also suggest that you watch out for flying sweat! LOL!

Watch the WWE Facebook or Twitter feeds to see when the Superstars will be coming to your city! I promise that it will be family fun you will never forget.

This post was brought to you by WWE, but the images and opinions are my own. For more information, please visit