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How to Traumatize the Neighbourhood Kids in 2 Easy Steps

How to Traumatize the Neighbourhood Kids in 2 Easy Steps 

  1. Raise your kids to be philosophical about matters of life and death in the animal world.
  2. Let them invite friends over and watch the fun!
Traumatize neighbourhood

“Traumatize the Neighbourhood Kids in 2 Easy Steps!”

My childhood dream was to be a marine biologist, so I have always been interested in keeping tropical fish. Our last aquarium, a 25 gallon freshwater tank with an assortment of tropical fish, made it through our fire as well as 4 moves within 3 homes within 2 cities before settling in its (thus far) final placement in the front hall of our house.

While Ben was a toddler, all of the remaining fish passed away one at a time and were not replaced, leaving us with a working, filtering tank, but no livestock, and since I planned to eventually re-stock it, I kept it running…for…uh…five years.

Scene: Ben giving the “house tour” to any new guests to our home

Guest: “Wow, a fish tank! How many fish do you have?”

Ben: “None. They all died.”

Guest: “Oh! That’s too bad…You must have been very sad.”

Ben: “Not really. They died a long time ago.”

Guest: “Uh…”

Me (in my head): “I really should either empty that tank or get new fish before people start to think we’re weird…uh…er.”

Recently Ben became very interested in ichthyology and aquaria (Yay!!! I’m going to live out my childhood dream vicariously through my kid!! But…uh…no pressure, bud…) and begged me to finally nail down a timeline for restoring the tank to its former glory. Two weekends ago we cleaned it (ugh):


Ben cleaning the model coral reef


Molly scrubbing the plastic plants


Empty (clean-ish) tank


Filling the jug to pour into the tank. Funny story: When we went to move the tank for the first time, after the fire (I’ll get to that in another post – be patient!) I went to the grocery store to ask if I could pay the $10 deposit for some empty water cooler jugs. The girl refused, saying, “I can’t let you do that because you could bring them back and we wouldn’t know what you had put in them.” I said, “But I assume you don’t just fill them up with water again without sanitizing them first, so what does it matter?” She said, “But you could use them for something gross and then return them.” I said, “Like…uh…cleaning a fish tank? Well, yeah, I could, but I could also get a full one, empty it, and do that anyway.” She said, “I’m not selling you an empty jug.” I said, “Fine,” turned to the guy behind me in line carrying 2 empty jugs, and said, “If I give you the $20 you’d get from her for those, can I have them?” He said, “Sure,” and gave them to me and I smiled at her and walked out.

…and last Friday we got a school of neon tetras and an albino cory to start things off. Sadly, one of the tetras did not survive the weekend.


The tank in its current clean and stocked state.

Scene: Ben showing his friend the newly stocked tank

Friend: “How many are there?”

Ben: “Five. There were six but one died. We have to take the body back to the store so they’ll give us a new one. It’s in the freezer.”

Me (in my head): “I’m glad he didn’t mention the part where I accidentally poured the other fish body down the drain.”

I seem to be having bad luck with tetras (or perhaps more accurately, the fish store seems to be having bad luck with them) because we went back to the store yesterday for a school of fan-tail guppies and a replacement neon who promptly up and died in the car on the way home.

Scene: Ben and his friend admiring the baggie of new fish acclimating to the tank

Friend: “Look at that little one!”

Ben: “That’s the dead one.”

Friend: “I like those little ones.”

Ben: “Those are neon tetras. They’re the same kind as the dead one.”

Me (in my head): “At least they haven’t noticed that the guppies are snacking on the corpse.”

Guppy cannibals

Artists rendition of the cannibalistic guppy feeding frenzy.

Fortunately for all involved they lost interest and went outside to ride bikes before they noticed the cannibalistic guppy feeding frenzy with the other neon standing (swimming? floating?) vigil for their fallen comrade. As my friend Jenn put it, “It’s like some sort of Sicilian mob-devised psychological torture.”

Between this and the fact that a friend posted on Facebook yesterday that she had dreamed about helping my mom and me defend the house from a zombie horde (successfully, so I’ve got that going for me…) I’m a little concerned about what Halloween night might bring.

Uh…Julia? The zombies weren’t by any chance scaly and blue and red striped, were they?

~ karyn

Guest Post: Kindness Heroes Help The Earth, by Ben Pickles

Today I have invited a guest poster, Ben Pickles (age 6), to share some of his thoughts with you.

Ben is 6 years old. Last year at school he was in Montessori. This year he is going into Grade 1 in French Immersion and he has started riding the school bus! He is excited to use his new Angry Birds pencil case and Angry Birds pens from his Aunt Yen Yen. Ben has guest-posted before on PicklesINK and also on Raising Wild Things. He is the author of Your Brio Peak Story Collection. One of Ben’s favourite books and movies is The Lorax, and Ben likes to help the environment just like the Lorax does. In the future Ben plans to be a premier of a province called Benville. Benville will be environmentally friendly, with wind turbines and solar panels to make electricity so we do not have to burn coal and oil and gas that makes air pollution.

Litter 3w

Ben and Molly with their full litter bag. Caption Reads: Kindness Heroes Help The Earth, Guest Post by Ben

Litter is garbage that people throw on the ground instead of throwing it out or recycling it. When I see litter, I feel like I should pick it up. I think that sometimes people throw things out of their cars because the cars will just run over them.

A little while ago, mommy, Molly and I were walking to the mailbox and the library. I saw some litter on the ground and I wanted to pick it up and carry it to a garbage. Mommy had two bags – one was a throw-outable bag and one wasn’t, so we put her letters in the other bag and used the throw-outable one to carry the litter so we could just throw out the bag with the litter when we got to the library.

Litter 2w

Photo of Ben and Molly picking up litter on the side of the road

On the rest of the walk downtown, we saw some more litter so we decided to pick up all the litter that we saw. Molly and I worked as a team – I held the bag and I showed Molly the litter and Molly picked it up and put it in the bag because I didn’t like the stinky smells.

Molly thought the litter was called “glitter” and every time she saw it she said, “Glitter! Glitter! More glitter!”

When we got downtown the bag was full of litter and we put it in the garbage at the library. We decided that every time we go on a walk we will bring a bag to pick up litter.

Litter 1w

Ben and Molly carrying their litter bag together

The thing that people litter most is cigarettes. I have seen that there are garbages for them, but people just litter them, and they have already done something that is not good for the environment – polluted the air with smoke. I wish I could pick up the cigarettes but they are too germy. I wish people who smoke cigarettes would put them into garbages instead of littering.

I like picking up litter, but I still wish that there wasn’t so much litter because litter pollutes the Earth. I wish that people would hold onto their garbage until they find a garbage or a recycling box to put it in because that would be nicer to the environment.

I would like to ask everyone who reads this blog post to pick up one piece of litter today and put it in the garbage (or if you find a box or can or anything that needs to be recycled find a recycling bin). Remember the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Like it says in How to Help the Earth – by the Lorax:

If we work together,

the earth will get better.

The land will be cleaner.

The soil will be wetter.

The sun will shine brighter.

The trees will be greener.

The sky will be bluer.

The air will be cleaner.


 ~ Ben Pickles

Show Ben some Comment Love here!!

From Sulks and Sadness to Sushi and Smiles: Ben and Molly’s First Day of School

Today was the big day – back to school for Ben and Molly!

Back to school collage

Photo Collage: Ben on porch with Molly in background, Daddy and Ben hugs, and Molly at sushi. Caption reads “From Sulks + Sadness to Sushi + Smiles – Team Pickles is Back to School”

This summer has *figuratively* flown by. As anyone who knows me can attest, I was never cut out to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. The work-at-home/half-time school balance that I have going on with Ben and Molly works perfectly for me. Summers can throw that routine off but this summer was a really good one; we crammed in lots of fun activities but also kept up a fairly workable routine of daycamp and me trying desperately to get all my work done while also rehearsing and performing two plays (but more on that in another post).

As you may have noticed (or, you know, actually more likely not because you were also off enjoying your fantastic summers that also figuratively flew by!) I haven’t posted very much this summer, so you can look forward to some summer recap and catch-up posts over the next couple of weeks!

As I mentioned a few posts ago, Ben has a big transition this year, leaving his beloved Montessori school for Grade One French Immersion, all day, every day, and with a school bus ride to boot. Molly also has changes in store, moving up to the Casa classroom and going from four mornings a week to five. There are a few other kids at the school that Ben knows from Montessori and other places, but none in his class and none that he knows very well.

My anxiety around Ben’s new school has been through the roof – most likely because I’ve been projecting my own less than blissful elementary school experience onto him. It’s not that I have particularly horrible memories but I also don’t have particularly happy shiny ones. Mostly I remember a lot of being bored and not having any really close friends (I did have a camp best friend but she lived 4 hours away so we couldn’t do much in the way of playdates).

I vividly remember my dad bringing me to visit my senior kindergarten classroom before the beginning of the school year and forever alienating the teacher, Mrs. Lambursky, by scanning the classroom and then asking in a disgusted tone, “But where’s the Science Table???” My parents tried to make it up to her at Christmas with a lovely gift of sheep-themed oven mitts (lamb –> Lambursky –> get it? See, I come by it honestly) but it didn’t seem to do the trick.

The grade two memory that stands out most is two of us being sent to the principal’s office and interrogated and accused of stealing our seatmate’s fruit roll-up, which she later found buried in her desk. There was never any apology and the injustice still stings.

I had a love/hate relationship with grade three. One the one hand, my teacher, Miss Methven, was wonderful and kept a stash of small prizes in her desk that we could earn through academic achievement and good behaviour. One the other hand, whenever she left the room, a girl named Jerky McJerkhead* would stand on a chair and lead a popularity contest (of a sort): “Put up your hand if you hate Karyn! Everyone who hates Karyn, put up your hand!!” Not just me, of course. That would have been cruel. She had a list of favourite targets and worked her way through in rotation.

Grade four was great, in large part because I went to a new school – so I have to admit, there is something to be said for a change of scene! Twenty-four of us unsuspecting 9 year-olds were bused away to form a full-time gifted classroom across town (6 girls and 18 boys, which has always raised questions for me about gender-bias either in the gifted testing itself or parents’ decision-making around the school change). We had an amazing teacher, Mr. Keay, and were a very close-knit class. I bonded with a girl named Nicole over our mutual love of card games and we played Crazy 8’s constantly…on the bus, on the playground, in our desks until Mr. Keay figured it out and moved us across the room from each other (le sigh).

Grade 4 class karyn

My grade 4 class picture. Can you pick me out?

After that was yet another transition, this time to the all-girls school I attended until graduation and where over time I made many very close friends and had…well…good and bad experiences, endeared myself to some staff members and alienated others, received a fine education that was probably worth every penny, and learned the most effective ways to make your kilt seem long enough and your shirt appear to be tucked in when neither actually is.

Like I said…the majority of my anxiety about Ben’s first day is wrapped up in my own experience, so I’ve been working reeeeeallly hard to keep it from impacting him.

Ben has been really excited about his new school, especially after we visited in the spring, met the principal, and had a tour. He confessed to me a few days ago, “Mommy, I’m excited about my new school, but I’m also a little nervous about meeting all those new people. Sometimes when I do something like that I get a little…shy.” I did the only thing a reasonable parent could do of course and cancelled his registration and vowed to homeschool him through to his graduate degree pulled myself together and assured him that everyone feels like that and lots of his new friends will be feeling shy too, even the ones who have been at that school who are going to a new classroom with a new teacher.

Of course, before setting foot in his new classroom, he still needed to be outfitted with school supplies. After The Conversation about backpacks, peer pressure, and bullying, Ben gave the backpack question a lot of consideration. We looked at all of his options online and in stores and in the end he went with:

School supplies

Ben’s new Thomas backpack (with suitcase wheels!) and school supplies

Thomas, of course! Let it never be said that Ben is boy who doesn’t know what he wants.

He had also considered Dr. Seuss as a backpack option but we weren’t able to find it, so I offered to make him a marker roll out of Dr. Seuss fabric (let me know if you’re interested and I will post a tutorial about that). I asked him if he would like a different fabric inside where it wouldn’t show as much and he inspected my fabrics carefully and said, “Princesses. Because I like princesses, and it’s now or never.”


Ben’s fabric choices for his marker roll: Dr. Seuss on the outside, princesses on the inside.

Ian, also the veteran of many childhood moves and therefore many school transitions, planned the ultimate back-to-school day for everyone: He took the day off work, bought back-to-school gifts for the kids, booked me a pedicure (and himself a bucket of balls at the driving range), and told Ben that dinner was his choice (“PIZZA!!!!”).

The morning drop-offs started with Molly to Montessori, grumpy, but quick to cheer up when she saw her friends.

Molly and Jade

Molly and her friend Jade ham it up for the camera

Next up was Ben to his new school, where the principal made his day by recognizing him: “It’s Ben Pickles!!” but unfortunately then he was thrown off when he learned that we were supposed to drop him off outside instead of at his classroom door like he had imagined. Honestly, I’m surprised he held it together as long as he did and had expected that something would cause his calm veneer to crumble.

Daddy hugs

Sad cuddles with daddy

Daddy cuddles helped a lot but in the end it was his principal’s offer to let us go in with him that did the trick. Once we brought him in, he changed into his indoor shoes and then with a nervous smile and wave was ready to start his new life as a primary school student.

On porch

Grinning Ben on the porch ready to go with grumpy Molly in the background

After that, Ian dropped me off for 90 minutes of bliss at the spa while he hit some balls and then we headed back for Molly’s pick up time. Although the only thing she would say in response to questions about what she did was a cheerful, “I don’t know!” we gathered that she had had a good morning. Over a sushi lunch and manicures she opened up a little more, telling me that they had sung songs about “butts” that went “Poop. Poop poop poop poop.” I may have to organize a parent-teacher interview…

Sushi lunch

Molly enjoying a bowl of miso soup

Finally, the moment of truth: We returned to Ben’s school for the pick-up. We hardly recognized the cheerful, confident 6 year-old who marched out the door bursting with stories about his day. The highlights, it seems, were the special “teacher introducement” in the gym and the fact that the playground possesses not one but TWO particularly slippery fireman’s poles.

Into every life, though, a little rain must fall, and there was one sour note – When Ian asked if anyone said anything about his Thomas backpack, Ben’s response was an utterly indignant, “They took NO interest AT ALL!”

Oh well. C’est la vie.

~ karyn

*Names have been changed.

Molly-Moo’s First Pun

You may have noticed this already but we have a bit of a…punning…problem here at Team Pickles. About a year ago I wrote about my proudest mommy moment – when Ben made his first original pun – and now it’s Molly’s turn.

Molly pun-master

Molly in her typical week-day attire. Caption: Beneath this unassuming exterior beats the heart of a true pun-master.

For a while last year Molly was wearing dance leotards to school, until her teachers asked me not to send her in them because it presented difficulties when it came to bathroom time. Soon after, Molly put on a leotard again in the morning and I said, “Molly, you have to change. What would Miss Sally-Jesse-Raphael* say?” to which Molly replied, “She would say, ‘Molly-Moo!’ and then she would say, ‘That’s awful!’”

Naturally this turned into a running joke, sometimes incorporating puns such as the following:

Ben’s: “Molly, what would Miss S-J-R say if you brought your breakfast to school?” “I don’t know!” “She would say, ‘Molly-Moo! That’s waffle!’”

And my: “Molly, what would Miss S-J-R if you brought a piece of string all tangled up to school?” “I don’t know!” “She would say, ‘Molly-Moo! That’s knot good!’”

Tonight at dinner, Molly floored us with, “Hey! What would Miss S-J-R say if I brought this knife to school?” “Uh…” said Ian and I.

(Knife? Knife? WHERE could she possibly be going with this?)

“She would say, ‘Molly-Moo!’ *dramatic pause* That’s not KNIFE!!”

I’m so proud!

~ karyn

*Not her teacher’s real name.

It only takes a spark

Grinning Ben - logo

Grinning Ben on a train (Where else?) – Caption reads “What if you knew your next words could crush his spirit?”

I had that conversation with Ben this morning. You know the one – that conversation that every parent dreads. The one where you have to tell your child that you will support his or her choice…but

Ben graduated from his beloved Montessori School this year and is going off to grade 1 in the fall at a new school. After a lot of soul-searching, research, and discussion, we decided to put him in French Immersion, which means being bussed out of town, instead of our local English school. The combination of an excellent Montessori education and Ben’s innate gifts means that he will be entering grade 1 at an advantage, reading and writing fluently and with an understanding of basic math, and Ian and I have been very concerned that without something to challenge him, between boredom and his natural…uh…exuberance, he could be a real behaviour problem.

We toured his new school and met the principal in the spring, and Ben is super-excited about it, but the fact remains that he is going to be thrust into a completely new environment, knowing no-one and with no safety net of teachers or friends who already know him – And when it comes to Ben, there’s an awful lot of him to know.

Which brings us to The Conversation. Ben has been trying to decide what kind of backpack to get for school. He just got an Angry Birds pencil case for his birthday and he had planned to get a matching backpack, but this morning he told me that he was reconsidering and was thinking about Thomas the Tank EngineEnter the Moment Of Truth.

What would you have said?

Ben LOVES Thomas. Ben HATES superheroes. Ben’s world view is one of friendship and beauty and kindness, not anger and fighting bad guys. In Ben’s world, if someone is “bad” it’s because they are feeling left out, and all you have to do is show them that they are loved and then everyone can be friends together. There’s no evil to fight. There’s no punching or yelling or explosions. The ugliest, the very worst word that Ben can name is “hate.” The most hurtful thing that Molly can do is call him “Bad Ben” – and then he pretends to cry and says, “You hurt my feelings,” and she apologizes and they hug and make up.

He is my sensitive, kind, loving boy who appreciates everyone for their own unique qualities and would never hurt anyone on purpose, and who feels every hurt so very deeply, whether it is being teased himself, seeing a classmate in distress, or even losing a piece of a craft kit to a restaurant garbage and weeping bitter tears over “Little Axle’s” imagined pain at being tossed into the dumpster.

Butterfly grave (2)

Ben places flowers around the dead butterfly at the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory

And he wants to bring a Thomas backpack to Grade One, where he will walk through the door on the first day of school, smiling confidently, into what I imagine to be a towering mob of larger-than life cartoon villains brandishing Spiderman and Sponge-Bob Squarepants gear and laughing at my little boy.

What would you have said?

My heart hurt just thinking about it. Do I get the Thomas backpack and hope for the best but imagine the worst, where that first day of school leads to a year of my beautiful, sensitive, loving, giant-hearted little boy being broken down, losing that amazing spark of wonderfulness that makes him who he is?

Or do I have The Conversation – the one where I have to destroy that innocence and tell him that there are people in this world who want to hurt you; who won’t respond to “That hurts my feelings,” with an apology and a hug but rather with a cruel laugh and continued taunts. Would my words be the splash of cold water that snuffs out that spark anyway?

What would you have said?

As gently as I could, I explained. “Remember, bud, how sometimes your friends at school would say that some things, like some shows, were baby things? When you go to your new school, you’re going to meet a lot of new friends, and some of them might be like that too. And I know that you are strong and brave and that you would be okay even if people did tease you, but I know that sometimes if people tease you it makes you feel sad. I’m a little worried that if you got a Thomas backpack, that’s one of those things that kids at your new school might tease about. I was thinking that Angry Birds is a good idea for a backpack because it’s something that people of all ages like, even grown-ups, so I don’t think that anyone would tease about that. But it is your decision, and I know you love Thomas and that you would be okay even if people teased you because YOU know that Thomas isn’t a baby thing.”

Ben’s face fell, and my heart broke.

But I should have known that nothing…NOTHING can diminish that amazing spark that makes Ben Ben, and after a few seconds that spark fired up Ben’s insatiable curiosity and need to know more – more – EVERYTHING about the topic at hand.

“You mean like when Daniel* says that Diego and Thomas are baby shows? And when he told me and Eddie that he wanted us to spend Christmas in the hospital? That’s bullying, isn’t it? Mommy, why ARE some people like that? Why do they bully other kids?”

“I think it’s because sometimes maybe they feel little, and doing things that make other people sad or feel little makes them feel a bit bigger or stronger. And there’s also a thing called ‘peer pressure.’”

“What’s that?”

“Well, it’s when people see other people doing something, they do it too because they want to be like the rest of their friends. They don’t want to feel like they are they only one not doing it. That’s why sometimes if someone is bullying or teasing, other kids might do it too, or might not help the kid who is being teased because they are afraid that if they do that, they will end up being teased or bullied too.”

And then suddenly a little bit of that spark rubbed off on me and I had my stroke of brilliance: “But you know, bud, there aren’t just bullies. There are also heroes.”

“What do you mean?”

“A hero is a kid who is brave and kind and helps the friend who is being bullied, even if no-one else is. Remember when Daniel was calling you little, and Joey put his arm around you and said, ‘I think you’re big’? Joey was being a hero.”

“Yeah! And I did that for him another time!”

“Right! And that’s a way to you peer pressure to do good things. If someone starts out being a hero, and being kind, and making other kids happy, the other kids will want to do it too. And then the peer pressure will get everyone to want to be kind to other people.”

“I’m a hero with the little ones. Like when Molly hurts herself, and I run and get her ice – I’m being a kindness hero! You know, ‘To speak kindly is better; to think kindly is better; to be kind is best.’ We practiced writing that on slates at the pioneer school…

…Kindness Heroes! We can be Kindness Heroes!

Butterfly camera - hero

A butterfly perches on Ben’s camera at the Butterfly Conservatory. Caption reads “This is what a HERO looks like”

And that, my friends, was the moment I realized that I didn’t need to warn Ben about anything. He already gets it WAY better than I ever could, and he and his Kindness Heroes are going to change this world.

~ karyn

*Names have been changed.

Some memories are best Re-Imagined: Sweatshirt to Skirt Upcycle with a Backstory

Camp memories collage

Collage: Clockwise from left, Me at 9, me now, and sunset over the lake. Text reads “Some memories are best Re-imagined: Sweatshirt to Skirt Upcycle with a Backstory”

I spent my summers from age 7 to age 18 at sleep-away camp in Algonquin Park. It was an incredible place. The girls were on an island, the boys on the mainland. There was a lot of politically incorrect “Indian” business that I really hope has since been corrected but at the same time elicits in me a wistful nostalgia.

Indian Council Ring (2)

“Indian Council Ring,” in which a lot of rich white kids pretend to be “Indians” and compete in various tests of strength and skill

My brothers, cousins and I were the third generation of our family to attend the camp, which in our modern, disposable world is pretty incredible to think about.

Imagine a beautiful, rustic wilderness setting. No electricity or running water except in the main buildings (and one set of toilets). Freedom, for the most part, from “grown-ups” except for the counselors, who were really just big kids themselves. Spectacular scenery.

Canoing docks in mist (2)

View of the canoeing docks in the morning mist

Activities included arts and crafts, swimming, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, horseback riding, and a strong focus on true wilderness canoe-tripping – starting at a 4-day trip when I was 7 and working up to, for most campers, the camp’s celebrated “long trips” of between 21 and 50 days in the remote Canadian wilderness.

Meg in canoe (2)

Relaxing in a canoe

Now for the flipside: I was an introverted, pudgy asthmatic. I was allergic to horses. I hated mosquitoes. I had passed all the swimming levels I could by the time was 11 and they had nothing else for me to do during the two hours a day of swimming lessons. There were only so many arts and crafts sessions they would let me sign up for. And, to put it quite bluntly, I despised canoe tripping.

Karyn age 9 (2)

Me, age 9, in my secret reading nook on the water

To me, wilderness excursions are like roller coasters – lots of people love them, and will pay through the nose and wait hours for the opportunity, but me? I can take it or leave it. People think when you say that that you are scared or just inexperienced and the “Aw, c’mon, it’s not that bad, just try it,” is maddening. So when I was a teenager and went to Wonderland, I would always go on Top Gun just once so I could say, “See? Not scared. Just bored. Now if you don’t mind I’m going to grab myself a Slushie and sit in the shade while you guys knock yourselves out standing in line for 2 hours to go around again.”

The same goes for camping. When people ask if I want to go “camping,” usually meaning, “drive to a campground, set up a tent, and roast hotdogs over a fire,” I’ve got to say, “Been there, done that. I can carry a canoe across a 2 km portage and put up an A-frame tent using only sticks, rocks, and 2 paddles, then pack it away again in a roll the size of a loaf of bread. I’m good. I’m going to stick with my air-conditioning and chilled beer, but hey, you guys go nuts.” I absolutely get what people love about it, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

Now that you have a clearer picture of me as a kid, you may understand how my camp experience was less Meatballs and more Lord of the Flies. And that was back before any of this anti-bullying stuff was invented. It wasn’t even called bullying back then – If you weren’t one of the cool kids, it was just life. And I’m not just talking about the other campers. Remember when I said the staff were just big kids? Well, sometimes the biggest kids are the biggest bullies.

I remember learning very early on that there were a lot of “rules” on canoe trip – Official Camp Rules, we were told. Like “camper portions” and “staff portions.” Official Camper Portions were half a pancake each. Official Staff Portions were 3 pancakes (filled with the pannikin-worth of blueberries that the campers were required to pick before they got to eat). Still hungry? Gee, that’s too bad. There’s no batter left. There were Official Camp Rules pertaining to desserts as well – as I understand it, campers were only allowed to eat what dessert remained after the staff were satisfied. Of course, they didn’t like it any more than we did, but what could they do? They didn’t make the rules!

I went on a 7-day trip in Temagami when I was 9 years old. Boy, that trip brings back lots of memories. The elaborate dramas the staff staged for our entertainment, like the one about the escaped axe-murderer from the nearby asylum that the park rangers flew in to warn us about (years later I realized that they had actually landed to caution our staff about too many people sharing a campsite). That charming amateur production ended with one of the male staff racing out of the end of a portage screaming, “GO! GO!” covered in muddy scratch-marks, later explaining that he had been attacked on the trail by a wild, hairy, mud-covered figure, more bear than man, wielding an axe.

Or the one about the man-eating beaver (all right, admittedly, that’s pretty funny now!) over whose dam we were portaging. I was kind of a suspicious 9 year-old, and I sensed something was up when I was hurried along because everyone was waiting for me at the end of the portage. I remember looking across at the slope on the other side of the creek and thinking to myself, “They’re all lined up like they’re sitting at a movie theatre or something,” before I was yelled at to go and join them so we could witness the climax together – the other male staff member racing out, canoe over his head, again covered with mud (stage makeup was hard to come by out there) having “just wrestled himself out of the grip of the rabid creature.”

I don’t think that last one went as smoothly as they planned, so it may have been out of frustration that they involved us campers in the next drama, a playful piece of black humour entitled, “Call the campers over to the staff tent, pin them down, and force-feed them cayenne pepper for shits and giggles.” I kid you not. That actually happened. I kept my lips clamped shut and it still burned for hours. And let me remind you, we were 9 year-old children and these were adults. I told a friend this story as an adult and she said, “Karyn, you realize they were high, right? They had to have been on something.” I think she was probably right.

I think that there was a lack of oversight and compassion at the supervisory level that contributed to the staff resentment which was in turn taken out on the campers. I certainly experienced this during my one and only year as a staff member when I found that days/nights off were generally decided amongst the front-line staff on a “who can get the most people on their side” basis. In my case, at one point, appealing to a higher authority on one occasion did net me grudging permission to take one extra day off to attend my grandmother’s memorial service, provided that I both made up the time doing extra duties later and was back by daybreak the next morning. My older brother was rather uncomfortable dropping me off on the mainland to fulfill this arrangement, but fortunately one of the skills that I had picked up over the years was the ability to quite confidently solo a canoe, in this case across a glassy lake in the middle of the night.

As for my relationships with the other campers, you could to an extent hardly blame them. I certainly didn’t make it easy on myself. Aside from being a moody bookworm, I was also of that compensatorily over-confident non-conformist ilk with an outspoken attitude of “I don’t care if you don’t like me! I don’t have to change myself just to fit in with you jerks.” At school I had a tight-knit anti-clique clique of like-minded folk as a buffer but at camp I was on my own. To be fair as well, there were only a few incidents of actual bullying; it was mostly an over-arching indifference to my presence in general.

There was good stuff too. I think my overall experience would have been better if I hadn’t stayed for so long – I even went back as staff when I was too old to be a camper because it just never occurred to me that I could stop. I met one of my best friends there, and I have skills and memories that many people can only dream of.

Sunset on the lake (2)

Vintage photo of sunset over the water – taken circa 1987 with a Kodak Instamatic X-15F

Few things can rival the majesty of red pines silhouetted in a Northern Ontario sunset…

Sunset over docks (2)

Another sunset over the water (slightly newer camera)

Or the exhilaration of “bum-sliding” down rapids wearing a life-jacket as a diaper…

Paradise Lagoon (2)

I think this is Paradise Lagoon in Temagami – we would have been jumping off a waterfall into the rapids

…the thrill of leaping off a 20-foot cliff into a deep lake…

Cliff jumping (2)

This would be Little Island, Little Island Lake, in Algonquin. There was a rope swing suspended from a tree atop a 20-foot cliff and you would swing out as far as you could and drop into the water. Frankly it’s a wonder any of us survived childhood.

…or the serenity of watching a wall of rain slowly move in across a lake. All of these experiences together make up who I am today and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

But in many ways, life is what you make it, and some of those experiences had to be reimagined or reinterpreted before they could become a useful part of that whole – which is a philosophical way of leading into the tutorial part of this post, in which I show you how I turned a zip-neck sweatshirt into an A-line skirt.

The connection is not quite as tenuous as you might think, as the sweatshirt happened to be my camp staff sweatshirt, which for me symbolized both a link back to that time as well as my symbolic breaking free of whatever hold kept me going there back year after year. For the last 15 years I have hung onto to that sweatshirt but have rarely worn it because I didn’t find it particularly comfortable. It always chafed just a little and never sat quite right.

With this project I took that not-quite-right sweatshirt and turned it into something unique and uniquely suited to me.

Sweatshirt to A-line skirt upcycle

Step 1: Cut sleeves off elastic-waist sweatshirt.

cut off sleeves (2)

Sleeves cut off – check!

Step 2: Turn sweatshirt inside-out, lay it on a flat surface and place a good-fitting skirt (I like A-line) on top of it, lining up the waistbands.

lined up with skirt (2)

Sweatshirt lined up with skirt (I still need to turn it inside out)

Step 3: Pin the edges of the sweatshirt to match the shape of the skirt.

pinned over skirt (2)

Sweatshirt pinned to match the line of the skirt

Step 4: Trim the bottom of the sweatshirt to your preferred length (the knit material should not need to be hemmed).

Step 5: Sew the edges along where you pinned and then trim.

Step 6: Turn right side out and try on!

(Optional) Step 7: Embellish or decorate skirt however you like – I used the camp crest and the zipper to create appliquéd pockets by cutting them out and sewing them on around their edges.

appliqued pockets (2)

Pockets positioned and ready to be sewn on

Step 9: Wear and enjoy!!

Karyn modeling skirt (2)

Me in my skirt. Have you ever seen a more uncomfortable-looking model?

*Please note that I made a deliberate choice not to identify the camp by name. I am talking about things that happened more than 20 years ago and I understand that they have worked hard to “clean up their act,” so if you happen to recognize it please do not “out” it in the comments.*

Mulch Ado About Something – Gardening post #2

Oh my goodness…This post is very, very, very late – It’s now over halfway through July and I’m pretty sure I left it half-finished at the beginning of June. Please imagine very hard that I actually posted these next couple of paragraphs a month ago —>

Gardening post 2 icon

Collage of pictures from post – Hanging plant, brush pile, and kids feeding goat. Caption reads “Gardening #2: Mulch Ado About SOMETHING!”

We’ve been continuing on a roll with our gardening madness. The back yard is almost totally cleared out but the bees are out in force which may *stem* from the fact that our huge privet hedge has just bloomed. The other morning I tried to edge the last of it but I got scared away by all the buzzing and just dumped a couple of bags of mulch and moved on to the front.

I tried my hand (well, foot, and shovel) at dividing my enormous hostas with limited success. I got one out, at least, and naturally couldn’t resist shouting, “HOSTA LA VISTA, BABY!” (I mean, really, who can blame me?)

After that I pruned the corkscrew hazelnut in the middle of the lawn, stopping to ask my neighbour for advice. When I get the energy later I’ll drag a bag of mulch from the back but for now I said *screw* it – this heat is *nuts*.

Corkscrew hazelnut pruned and mulched

Corkscrew hazelnut, pruned and mulched

Then I went to town on the euanamous bushes, which have totally overgrown the front garden. My plan (Well, our plan. We’ve discussed it and it’s *euanamous*) is to cut them back drastically, disentangle them from the other hedges, give them some shape (other than, you know, “giant amorphous blob”), and mulch and plant some lower-growing flowers in front.

I discovered, to my chagrin, a huge pile of dry sticks underneath everything that on closer inspection turned out to be an entire dead euanamous bush – proof, sadly, that the gardener I was paying $50 a visit to for the last 2 years never ventured more than 6 inches into the garden. Ah well. Live and learn.

Brush pile - mid-pruning

Brush pile from front garden MID-pruning. By the end it filled a small trailer.

Ben and Molly and I took an afternoon to check out the plants at our local farmers market, picking out lots of herbs (Ben and Molly are especially partial to lavender and mint), tomatoes, and hot peppers.

Plants from farmers market 1

Plants from farmers market – experimental ground cover, herbs, tomatoes, and peppers.

No trip to that market is complete, of course, without visiting and feeding the animals there – friendly goats, geese, and chickens.

Feeding goats

Ben and Molly feeding the goats – Molly dressed to the nines, as usual!

Ben begged for a hanging basket of flowers – “Look mommy! It has a hook, and we have hooks on the front porch! It’s perfect!”  Our neighbour Walt marched over the day after we hung it with a retractable hanger – “Here, Karyn. I’ve had this squirreled waitin’ for someone to get a plant like this. Watcha do is you pull it down and lock it, water it, then send it back up.” Ben immediately declared that it is now HIS job to water it since Walt gave him the hanger just so  he could reach it.

Hanging plant

Ben’s prized hanging plant – “Look, Molly! It’s pink! Your favourite colour!”

A few days later, on what turned out to be the hottest day of the summer so far, I decided to try to dig out that euanamous stump. It took me 2 hours and was the dirtiest job I’ve ever done, but boy did I ever feel like a superwoman when I finished. It’s a good think I wore gloves, don’t you think?

dirty arm

Dirty arm – there was dirt on my arms…in my eyes…in my teeth…in my…well, you get the picture.

I think I cemented my reputation with my neighbours, who have been watching approvingly. Ian reported when he arrived home from his 3 days away that Walt had greeted him with, “You know, that wife of yours has been out there all week working her…uh…uh…” “Tail?” “…off all week in this heat. You shoulda seen her!” Another neighbour came over one morning just to tell me how great it looked. Yay! Pat on the back for ME!

Victory is mine

I conquered the stump!! VICTORY IS MINE!!

Once that bastard of a stump was out, we planted a cutting from the forsythia in the backyard in its place. Team Pickles has a little bit of a forsythia obsession that I can’t explain…Okay, fine…it’s my obsession. It’s just such a fun word. Forsythia. Forsythia! FORSYTHIA!!! Now imagine a 3 year-old saying it – see? Awesome. We have a car game in the spring where the first person to see a forsythia while driving yells, “FORSYTHIA!”…and then…well…uh…that’s actually it until someone else sees a forsythia and yells, “FORSYTHIA.” Oh yeah? Well, I think your car games are dumb too!

Ooohkay…moving on.

Walt was also out first thing the other morning edging the front and left me with clear instructions to “Mulch the shit out of it.”

Front garden pruned

Front garden, pruned and mulched.

Heading back to the back yard, I potted (over the course of a couple of HOT weeks) all the tomatoes, hot peppers, basil, and mint. We can’t grow tomatoes or pepper in the ground because there have been black walnut trees in the yard in the past – their roots leave a toxin that affects tomatoes and peppers for decades afterwards.

Potted plants

Potted plants – tomatoes, hot peppers, and basil.

Ben and Molly helped me to plant the other herbs (cilantro, lavender, and rosemary) in the garden. I even experimented with more transplanting, moving the clumps of my orange mystery flower – now identified as blanketflower – from the herb garden to other parts of the garden.

Herb garden planted

Finished herb garden – Clockwise from top left are rosemary, cilantro, sage, chives, oregano, lavender

While moving rocks around to edge the back garden, I found a huge ant colony under a flat stone and intrepid photographer Ben ran back in for the camera to document them rushing their eggs underground.

Ants racing underground

Upper left is a purple mystery flower, lower left is the overturned stone (crawling with ants), and upper middle and right you can see the uncovered tunnels and thousands of ants racing to get their eggs underground.

Finally, I planted a couple of groundcover plants in the front, and Walt assures me that all this transplanting will be fine as long as I “water the shit out of it.” I’m starting to see a theme here.

Okay, that brings us to about mid-July. I’ll try to make the next garden post come a bit sooner than this one did so stay tuned!

~ karyn

Stone edging 2

Almost finished back garden – partly mulched and edged with stone.

Stone edging 1

Back yard side garden, mulched and edged with stone.

Pruned, roses and sweet peas in bloom

Back yard side garden, mulched, roses and sweet pea in bloom.

Blooming yellow mystery flower

Back garden, mulched and edged (once the ants were back underground). Yellow mystery flower in bloom.

How are your gardening adventures going? Do you recognize any of my mystery flowers?


I’ve been bitten (and stung) by the gardening bug!

One of the first things that attracted us to our house was the amazing perennial garden – carefully planted to bloom all season and attract butterflies and hummingbirds and complete with pond, waterfall, and koi. I had a sort of naive belief that such an amazing garden would inspire me to become some sort of earth-mama tree-hugging wood-nymph magically endowed with the body of Gwyneth Paltrow, the fashion sense of Nicole Richie, and the horticultural knowledge of Luther Burbank.

I very quickly discovered that this was not the case and my naive belief switched over to, “No worries – these sorts of things take care of themselves, right?”

Not so very much.

Two  years later, with the koi dead and my garden replaced by a waving 3-foot tall sea of something I learned was called “goutweed,” I despaired and called for help, hiring a gardener to dig everything out and restart. She has been maintaining the garden for me for the last couple of years, but this year Ian and I have decided to take a leap of faith and go at it ourselves (with lots of advice and guidance from my neighbours and my fabulous sister-in-law Mel).

In progress

This plan has been somewhat complicated by poor Ian’s debilitating hay fever, which seems to be experiencing its worst year ever! The last couple of weeks have seen him sneezing non-stop even when dosed up on antihistamines, but it seems to be settling down now. He has been soldiering on though and we can happily report major progress over the last weekend!

Here’s the situation as it stands:

The Garden

We have a fully planted perennial garden – lots of green stuff, lots of flowering stuff, lots of bulbs and shrubs.

Before 2

Crowded garden – Pretty flowers, but way too many!

With all the lovely rain we’ve been having, EVERYTHING is growing and and spreading like crazy so the plants are encroaching on each other and there are no pathways to get through any of it to weed.

Before 1

Plants all vying for space – lilies, blue mystery plant, and sweet pea.

Where the pond used to be is now a bog garden (layers of rock and gravel under the soil to keep it moist for water-loving plants but without standing water on the surface for mosquitoes to bred). The goutweed was never fully eradicated – it’s still in our neighbours’ yards and spreads by its root system under the fences.

Before 3

Overgrown garden – clumps of lily, euonymus, clematis, and iris. The goutweed is poking through the fence into the grass on the right.

There is a section at one side of the garden that I tried growing vegetables in 2 years ago but didn’t plant last year that is now overgrown with weeds (plus a few clumps of an identified plant that my neighbour didn’t recognize but said I should keep).

The Plan

Thin everything out so there is space between plants, mulch EVERYWHERE, and edge with stones. Take out some of the repetition and experiment with new plants, especially hummingbird and butterfly-attracting plants. Plant my potted kitchen herbs in the bare (former vegetable patch) section. Prune back shrubs. Learn how to maintain everything (when and how to prune what) and weed regularly. Teach Ben and Molly to help out (if I’m not paying them, it’s not child labour, just character-building, right?).

Progress Report

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve pulled out all the weeds along the fence and taught Ben and Molly to recognize the goutweed and pull it if they see it (“See these leaves? These are yucky! If you see them, pull them out right from the bottom of the stem and say, ‘Get out of our garden, yucky plant!!'”). On Saturday Ian bought 20 bags of mulch and we spent the afternoon weeding, edging, laying stones, pruning shrubs, and transplanting the herbs, and put down one bag of mulch in the back corner. I also transplanted a random patch of wild strawberry from the middle of the lawn to what I’ll now start calling the kitchen garden. Sunday afternoon we were back at it again but my efforts were cut short by an event that can only be described in rhyme:

There once was a pretty young lass,
Who was gardening up like a boss,
When a bumblebee thought
She had disturbed his spot
And stung her right up on her upper upper thigh.

After that I took a little break to nurse my injured…dignity.*

During 2

In progress – the kitchen garden has been weeded and edged with stones and my potted herbs planted – lavender, chives, and oregano. The little green patch in the middle is the wild strawberry tranplanted from the lawn.

During 6

This section is in progress – I haven’t decided whether or not to mulch the kitchen garden (left side). My rhubarb is in the centre and the bog garden to the right.

Despite the fact that it has been a literal pain in the rear-end, I am starting to feel the earth-mama vibe… I have found, weirdly enough, that I’m more comfortable barefoot while I’m gardening than wearing shoes, though I have to wear gloves because I hate getting my hands dirty and the bugs freak me right out. Yes, the irony has been pointed out to me. I’m also starting to get excited not only about the prospect of finishing what I’ve got but also about experimenting with new plants and sharing the ones I’m digging out.

Now I’m just waiting on that Gwyneth body…

Finished section

This is the first finished section! Dappled willow and forsythia bushes pruned and everything weeded and mulched. I may pull out the clump of whatever that is beside the fence (there is more of it in the bog garden on the other side of the shrubs).

Comment time: Gardening aficionados, help!!

Can you identify any of these mystery plants for me?

Unidentified 1

Mystery Plant #1 – fuzzy leaves, flowers starting but no discernible colour yet. This is the one that appeared and my neighbour said to keep.

Unidentified 2

Mystery Plant #2 – spiky stem, water pools at the base of leaves. Growing in the middle of the bog garden, so water-loving. About 2.5 feet tall and there is only one.

Unidentified 3

Mystery Plant #3 – Feathery leaves, flowers starting but no discernible colour. Sort of daisy-like.

Unidentified 4

Mystery Plant #4 – These are in clumps all over. The honeybees and black ants love them.

Do you have any ideas for other plants for me to try out – butterfly- or hummingbird-attracting, pretty, interesting? What are your favourites?

*I have since observed (and confirmed via my old friend Google), that bumblebees nest in the ground. Who knew? (Don’t answer that. It was rhetorical.) It seems that when I moved away from the clump of plants she was buzzing around, I wound up standing right on her house. Anyone know of a non-lethal way to get rid of an underground bumblebee nest in your garden?

Other parents’ judgement? That’s the leash-t of my worries.

I love Today’s Parent. I don’t always agree with everything in it, but it’s always a good read, and gosh-dang-it, y’all know I’m a sucker for any kind of child development material!

The topic of this month’s “Debate” column is “Should you use a leash to control your toddler?” and I felt it missed the mark. I was frankly offended by Nadine Silverthorne’s assertion that “parents who use leashes look lazy,” and although Amy Morrison’s “Yes” column made a great case for leashes, I was saddened by the caveat that she never actually used one herself due to fear of judgement – a fear that was clearly justified!

Since Today’s Parent hasn’t been able to find anyone willing to admit to actually using a toddler leash, I feel compelled (anyone surprised by that?) to add my own two cents!

Although I use the term “toddler leash” facetiously among friends, it is not at all the same as an animal leash. There is no “obedience training” involved and it is not a punitive device used to jerk back a disobedient pet to ensure compliance born out of fear of a repeat performance. A toddler “leash” or harness is a safety device that allows your child the freedom of walking a few steps away from you while giving you the means to respond effectively to any unexpected danger.

Toddlers value independence above all else. The “Terrible Twos” exist because it is around that age that children first learn to do for themselves, at their own pace, and heaven help the parent who says, “Just let me do it for you!” Is it really fair to strap your fearless little explorer into a 5-point stroller harness just because he or she is too dazzled by the wonderful world around him or her to stop dead every time you shout, “Freeze!”?

Going back to the statement that toddler leash-toting parents “look lazy,” I asked my own mother, who, as a full-time doctor and mother of 3 in the 1980’s is the least lazy person I know (Case in point: She recently returned to work on crutches 9 days after breaking her hip in a skiing accident), what she thinks of parents who use toddler leashes. She responded dryly, “Karyn, if I hadn’t used a toddler leash, your brother Chris wouldn’t be around today.”

When Ben was a toddler, I kept his lightweight harness in my diaper bag, ready to throw on him any time the situation warranted. If I was going to be wandering the Eaton’s Centre or downtown Toronto, or taking a trip to a train station or waterfront with a 2 year-old, you bet your bippy I’d have that leash at the ready!

Ben with leash 2

Ben, on leash, walking by a river in Germany.
©PicklesINK 2013

It was the best option for both of us – Ben was free to explore without being stuck in the stroller or having his hand held (just take a minute to imagine how uncomfortable it must be to have someone much taller than you holding your hand up above your head until it falls asleep, gripping it hard enough that you can’t pull away) and I had the security of knowing that I could stop him if he suddenly bolted towards a hazard.

Ben with leash 3

And Ben, off leash!
©PicklesINK 2013

There are certain situations in which even the most anti-leash parent would be unlikely to argue that a safety harness isn’t a good idea:

Ben with harness on sailboat

Ben on a sailboat with a lifejacket and safety harness.
©PicklesINK 2013

(For the record, the harness Ben is wearing in the preceding photograph is actually an adult boating harness intended for sailboat racing – safety devices ain’t just for toddlers, y’know.)

And how about in the case of special needs children? If you don’t think that’s appropriate, take a minute to walk a mile in some other parents’ shoes by reading the testimonials on this website from users of special needs child-to-adult harnesses. Or take it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak:

I’ve got the best harness in the world. When I first got it I didn’t like wearing it, but now I love my harness. I never get lost and I don’t have to keep holding hands all the time and its comfortable to wear. Big kids and little kids should wear a harness because you are never too old to be kept safe. And I love the colours.

– Tyler, Australia, Age 9, http://www.childharness.ca/testimonials.html

There are important guidelines to follow when using a toddler harness:

1. The whole idea is to give your child the freedom to explore on his or her own terms, so try to follow at his or her pace and guide your child with your words (“Time to go this way! Come on!”). Your child is not a puppy, and the harness is not an choke-chain, so do not jerk him or her back to you.

2. If you aren’t holding the harness, tuck it firmly out of the way, and take it off completely if your child is playing on something like a climber or slide where it could become a strangulation hazard.

3. When it comes to wrist straps, just don’t: If you can manage to get them tight enough to stay on, they’re just a broken wrist waiting to happen.

4. And of course, make sure that you come prepared with pithy rejoinders for those inevitable judgments, such as,

“Well, the breeder suggested that we try this first, but if his behaviour doesn’t improve soon, it’s off to obedience school!”

“Dear God! You’re right! This isn’t my dachshund Olympus – it’s my neighbour’s kid! I can’t believe I did it AGAIN!”

Or the classic, “You know what they say about people in glass houses.”

As Nadine Silverthorne points out, it is our job as parents to teach our children “the rules,” including the expectation that when we say “Freeze,” they will. I say that even more importantly, it is our job to know our own children and to keep them safe whether they are listening or not.  The call-and-response method that she describes is an excellent training tool, but at the toddler age it is simply not foolproof. There is always potential for distraction, and the use of a toddler leash can ensure that a moment’s  impulsiveness doesn’t turn into a life-altering tragedy.

~ karyn (aka that horrible, lazy, toddler-leash-using mom everybody love to judge!)

The coins on the bus go clink-clink-clink

….assuming you still use coins, and not tickets or some sort of magnetic swipe pass or retinal scan….

(Almost) since the dawn of time, parents have wrestled with the age-old question: When should you start teaching your kids about money?

Scene: A Cave, 500,000 B.C.:

*grunt* *grunt grunt* *grunt* OG *grunt grunt grunt* *grunt GRUNT* [Translation: “How many times to I have to tell you, OG?? The pointed stick is worth 5 flat rocks, not 3!!”]

And when you do talk to your kids about money, HOW do you do it? How do you translate such an abstract concept into something they will understand?

“Experts” suggest starting to talk to your kids about money around age 5-6, talking your kids through the transactions that you make and looking at the relative value of coins and bills. That was hard enough for our parents back when they had, you know, actual money as a frame of reference. I don’t know about you, but it’s an even more intangible entity now since my kids see me making purchases using a plastic card, a series of numbers, or simply by tapping a password onto a touchscreen.

I hadn’t even begun to give any serious thought to this issue, but with Ben’s help, I accidentally stumbled upon an amazing technique that has helped Ben and Molly grasp the concept of money beautifully.

A few months ago, after watching an episode of Franklin the Turtle, Ben said, “Mommy, I have an idea. I think I should do chores, and every time I do a chore, I get a sticker, and when I have 5 stickers, I get a new engine. Okay?” I said, “All right, bud, I love the concept but I think the terms some adjustment.”

After some discussion, Ian and I came up with this plan:

Ben’s Sticker Chores

  • A grown-up assigns a sticker chore or determines if something counts as a sticker chore (Ben can suggest a chore or ask to be assigned one)
  • When Ben completes a sticker chore, he puts a sticker on the calendar, and each sticker on the calendar is worth $1
  • Ben decides how and when he wants to spend his stickers (but we control the rate at which he earns them)

Ben keeps a tally of his stickers in his head (counting them on the calendar to double-check), and keeps revising his plans of what to do with them. Originally he was going to earn 100 stickers so he could buy a double-decker roundhouse for his trains, but he has now changed his mind and is working towards smaller goals. Molly loves to help Ben so many of the chores are actually communal efforts and Ben assures her that she will share in the rewards!

Two days ago was the big day when he spent his first 4 stickers on the Thomas Day of the Diesels app (which was enjoyed by all).

Ben, daddy and Molly with iPod

Daddy, Molly and Ben listening to a Day of the Diesels story at bedtime.
©PicklesINK 2013

When we put this together, I thought it was going to be a simple chore/reward system – I was not thinking of it as a way of addressing the concept of money at all! Around the same time as we started, though, Ben got very interested in doing keyword searches which lead to his finding DVDs and apps on iTunes and asking to download them, saying, “But you just have to put in your password!! It’s easy!”

He just wasn’t understanding why we kept saying “no” until inspiration struck and I said, “Ben, the trouble is, downloading that DVD actually costs 15 sticker chores!”

The lightbulb went on for both of us! Ben said, “WHAT? FIFTEEN! But I only have 5 sticker chores now and I need 100 to get the double-decker roundhouse!! That’s WAY too many!!” and I said, “I know! If we got it, that means unloading the dishwasher FIFTEEN MORE TIMES! That’s a LOT of work, isn’t it?’

stickers on calendar

Money Smarts: Brought to You by the Canadian National Bank of Princess Stickers
©PicklesINK 2013

Since then, everything money-related has been framed as “sticker chores,” and through this analogy Ben has come to understand:

STUFF costs money & money = work; therefore getting stuff = WORK

Whether “money” is represented by stickers, coins, plastic cards, or a password on the computer is irrelevant.

As a grown-up I do well to remind myself of that every once in a while too – when I think back to what it takes to earn that money, sometimes I think twice before clicking “Add To Cart”!

~ karyn