Friday, 28 November 2014


My kids don't come home for lunch. This is despite them, for much of their school careers, attending a school 3 blocks away and with me home. When asked by them why they can't come home when many of their friends do, I have a simple answer: "I don't want you here."

Harsh perhaps but I have no worries about scarring their egos. For one thing, have you ever talked to a boy between the ages of 3 and 13 - in their humble opinion, they are AWESOME! At EVERYTHING! Their egos are untouched by reality. I think actually some of these punks could do with a little regular ego puncturing. But that's just me being mean, or truthful... or both.

I explain to my boys that I have sacrificed a lot by being home and putting myself at their general disposal and being available to go to appointments, to be home for sick and PA days and to take them to various activities and that, if they were to come home regularly, I would get even less done than I normally do. They look at me blankly and say, "Huh?" or something along those lines - they have clearly long ago moved on.

I also wonder, why would they want to come home anyway? It's boring here. At school during lunch hour they can run around and yell and play games and, from what I can tell, are often pretty much unsupervised - except for one teacher on yard duty who is on serious zombifying medication wishing she had made different life choices. I don't get it - lunch hour was the best part of the day in grade school for me - almost al of my memories of that period of my life come from recess. That's where you really learn stuff about the world.

However, to show I do care about them, I instituted a policy that I take each out individually once a semester to a local restaurant of their choice. This is a treat for all of us - I get out of the house and eat junk food and joke around with my boys one on one for an hour and they get the same benefit - when you're one of three kids you get lumped in with the group and don't get much personal time. This has been a very popular lunch program.

Today I took out my middle son for our term lunch date. He's new to the school this year but his older brother has been there for a few years. He was quite excited to try out Hero Burger and its bottomless soda fountain. I will try to remember the last Friday of the month is the worst day to go to this restaurant - it's the only hamburger joint in walking distance of the rather massive grade school and, by the time we walked there, we were number 70 in line.

I had my son stake out a table and I eventually placed our order, while witnessing hosts of tweens begging each other to lend them money to buy fries. Having the older boy at the school for the last few years means I have got to know a number of these kids from field trips, classroom visits and school teams. A number of boys came up to our table to say, "Hi, Sweeney's Dad. Where's Sweeney?"

I had to laugh. Growing up with a common first name and surname that already seemed a nickname, I was known as Sweeney from Grade One onwards. It always tried my mother's patience when kids would call our house (On a land line! I know, old school, right?) and ask for "Sweeney".

"Which one?" she would sigh, "There are 6 of us."

I think it's possible many people didn't even know my first name. I did actually have a guy come up to me in high school one time and ask why people called me Sweeney. I explained that it was my name. He looked disbelieving. (Yes, I'm talking about you, Arash - someone I would have thought would be more sensitive about names, frankly) I also still regularly have people who believe my name is 'Mike'. Not sure where that came from.

My surname has been morphed into many forms over the years as well: Sween, MacSween, Sweenster, Sweendawg and, perhaps the weirdest, Sweeneyburger.

On that note, at Hero Burger, in answer to the question, "Where's Sweeney?" I gestured to my second son, and said, "Right here. He's in Grade Four."

"Oh right, this is Middle Sweeney. I heard he was here now."

I think my son and I both got a kick out of it. He likes knowing he's part of something and that bigger kids know who he is because he has an older, popular brother at the school. It certainly helped him feel more comfortable with the transition. And I just like that he is known as a Sweeney. Even though I growled to him after the kids left, "Sweeney's Dad? Mr. Sweeney would have been just fine," I didn't really care. We both enjoyed that kids knew who I was and felt comfortable coming up and talking to me - like I was some kind of local celebrity. But not so friendly they asked for money to buy fries, thank god.

Something about that exchange made me feel good, like that, even though I don't have my kids coming home for lunch everyday, I'm doing something right as a dad.

Or, then again, it could have been the fries with gravy that made me feel so happy.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Apple Falls Not Far From The Tree - But It Fell In Glorious Combat

So, I'm a writer these days - occasionally paid, sometimes read - when I can fit it in around laundry, ferrying kids to activities and the general duties that come with being a parent of three kids, that is. I once was a lawyer and the decision to leave lawyering to do writing was clearly not primarily an economic one (or at least not a good economic one) but was one reached with my wife when trying to sort out how best to look after our kids and have a good life. I'm still amazed that she supports me (in many sense of the word) in the decision to stay at home, be there for her and the kids while pursuing the dream of writing for real and dependable money some day.

That decision would not be supported by many and I still wake up in the middle of the night, with "What the hell were you thinking?!" screaming in my head. Even my 9 year old recently questioned my decision while I was editing a school paper he had written. Of course, he objected to me looking at it as he knew it meant more work for him, so I pointed out to him that I am a professional writer and editor who gets (irregularly) paid to do what I was doing for him. There was a pause as he digested my words and then asked - "So why don't you go back to being a lawyer?" Jerk.

Nonetheless, occasionally it pays off in other ways - like the time I found said jerk up on his bed reading a bunch of graphic novels. I asked him what he thought of them. Pretty good, he answered. I pressed for more details as to which he liked better and why. He sighed and looked at me. "Why?" he asked.

"Because I wrote those."

He was dumbstruck. "What? You WROTE these? How?" Certainly not an unqualified endorsement since he was amazed that I was capable of writing good stuff but, you know, I'll take it.

The most recent example of me being a writer (perhaps) influencing my kids is the new authorship of my 7 year old, whose prolificacy frankly astounds and shames me. He'll shout out from the other room, "I just finished another chapter! That's four today!", while I'm busy wasting time reading Facebook. He'll also insist on reading aloud his compositions. Sure, as an 'artist' and fellow writer I should support this but again, given his output I'd be listening to his stories all day, so I try and avoid it. He announced after shutting his notebook in satisfaction, "Maybe I'll be a writer when I grow up." This made me almost as happy as when last year he told me (when he discovered I could juggle), "Daddy, when I grow up I want to be a clown. We can be clowns together." Sniff.

Mind you, I am a little concerned about his potential foray into writing for a living. He should have some other skills to fall back on. He's a bit of a bruiser and is enrolled in French Immersion, so I've had the dream of him perhaps getting a rugby scholarship to a school in France where he could train to become a pastry chef, with a minor in clowning.

His writing actually might prove more commercial than mine. It usually begins with two guys who meet up and immediately embark on an adventure involving taking on bad guys and killing them in numerous ways. Yikes. I'm waiting on the call from the school psychologist.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Parental Advisory: Disciplinary Measures

A while ago, I wrote a comedy script for a short film and, together with Jaime Escallon-Buraglia,  Elena Lombardi and the good folks at bravoFACT, we made a funny short film about a dysfunctional PTA.

It's part of the same world as the comedy series we are developing through NSI Totally TV. So, if you like what you see here, maybe someday you can see more in an actual series.

Here's the link. You can watch it on the bravoFACT site, like it on YouTube and share with anyone you think would like a laugh. Cheers.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Halloween: A Real Treat

Halloween has become one of the most popular holidays - why is that? Well, with three boys whose candy intake is limited during the rest of the year, it is certainly a big deal in our house. I am mostly a passive observer in the run up to the big night. The boys and their Mum work on their costumes together and decorate the house with stencils, spiders, webs, rubber rats etc. while I try and stay out of the way. My wife works during the week and so has to cram in the parenting in the evenings, weekends and holidays. On occasions like this, she goes FULL OUT, which is exhausting but I've found if I just stay out of her way lots of fun things get done that I'm too tired, lazy or grouchy to attend to myself. I am usually very happy with the results.

One of these happy results is the great costumes she puts together with the kids every year (I can still visualize my own Mum swearing with pins in her mouth as she stitched together costumes for me and my siblings when I was a kid). It's fun to have such a costume but there's no way I'd do the same for my own kids (see lazy, tired and grouchy reference above). They looked fantastic though and we all got a great kick out of them on the night. My personal favourite was my 7 year old as a garden gnome, with a stuffy in his shirt to give him the proper tummy.

The key to have this costume making work with three kids is that she has involved them in the process from the beginning (something my own Mum didn't really think to do (thank god)) and they contribute to the process with various levels of helpfulness. The result is a more meaningful and personal costume - to the degree that when she asked my eldest (11) if many other kids at his school Halloween event made their own costumes he spat out with contempt, "No." And then asked whose costume was the best he said simply, "Mine." Love it.

We have taken to applying this principle of child-involvement to everyday things - we call it the Helper Elf system. On a rotating basis the boys help with making dinner, setting the table and cleaning up. My 7 year old remarked sourly on the weekend that he liked it better before we started this "whole elf business". It's sometimes no help at all and often it is a hindrance to getting stuff done, especially if you want it done quickly but, increasingly things click into place and getting dinner ready is a lot faster and you have a nice chat with your kid who normally says, "I don't know" when you ask them what's going on with their life.

One of my few Halloween responsibilities is carving the pumpkin. This year we had two to do and I was wondering how I'd get them done in time but, again by involving the kids, I ended up doing it really quickly and it was... FUN (which, let's be honest, these family things can sometimes not be with all the time pressures and expectations etc.). We had a great time working on them. I had the guys scoop out the gunk and I carved the faces based on designs the kids did. My eldest even baked up a couple of batches of pumpkin seeds. Tasty.

Then my wife showed up and took the younger two out in the rain to Trick or Treat while I handed out candy at the house and quizzed kids on their costumes. My eldest has now gone out on his own with friends for the last couple of years and this has also been great - he is able to get some freedom and independence and have a good time. I'd rather not know what he gets up to. It's funny that the "scariest" night of the year is the one I feel most comfortable with him wandering the streets at night - it is full of people, neighbours and friends.  The whole night is quite the treat and I'm grateful to have such a low fuss holiday.