My Brother

Cameron’s name has been changed.

We know when the change happened but we don’t know why. We have our theories but will never know for sure. What we do know for sure is that within our family, Cameron started to be referred to as “Brother”.

This change was instigated by our sweet two-year-old Gavin last fall. Ever since he began to speak, Gavin had been able to work his tongue around the name “Cameron” but suddenly he just stopped calling Cam by his name. Instead, he began calling him “Brother”, a name that did not signify a loss of identity, but instead a special honour.

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We first noticed this around the time when our daycare situation imploded. One Friday morning we dropped our kids off at the dayhome care and within hours we were called to come pick them up – the daycare had been shut down. We were left with no care for our children, no notice, and no time to transition them into a new place. We were lucky to find something so quickly, and they started the following Monday morning, but that certainly is no way to ease a child into a brand new routine with brand new people. It was traumatic for the entire family. It ended up being a good change, but regardless of the outcome, it was still tough.

Blessedly, we discovered that Gavin’s best friend from the old daycare had also been placed in this new daycare. They were inseparable – a familiar friend in all this newness. And here is where we came up with the simplest explanation as to why Gavin started calling Cameron, “Brother”. Gavin’s friend’s name is Aron, and it just so happens that in toddler-speak, “Aron” and “Cameron” sounded very similar. Gavin often found himself trying to get us to understand which person he was referring to. Understandably frustrated, he started calling Cameron “Brother” to ease some confusion.

That’s one theory, at least. But while it maybe is part of the explanation, I don’t think that’s entirely why Cameron’s name was changed.

Gavin has always been our sensitive child. He even seems to react physically to anxiety with full-body hives that cover his entire body following stressful events in his life. I was so worried that the change in daycare would result in another full-body breakout. To my shock, it didn’t happen. Gavin stayed completely hive free. While I believe that the new daycare should be commended for how wonderful they were to Gavin in those first few days, I also believe that Gavin had found a new way of coping.

He focused on where and to whom he belonged.

Every time we were together, Gavin would point to us and name us. If we were sitting around the table he would announce: “That’s my Daddy. That’s my Mommy. That’s my brother.” If we were in the car he would point to each of us and say the same thing. Daddy. Mommy. Brother. If anyone else came near our family, he would make sure that they knew we were a family unit. He vocalized our connection to him. “My Mommy. My Daddy.” He reinforced it constantly. It was as if in claiming our family relationships, he could make sure we didn’t leave him. We were his constants. His stability. His family.

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Each time Gavin calls Cameron “Brother”, he claims ownership. He situates himself in a position of privilege in Cameron’s life. He reinforces the unbreakable bond that he has with this special boy. He exudes love.

It makes my heart nearly burst to see my sons claim each other in such a way. They are mine, but they are also each other’s in a way I can never be. And that is a beautiful blessing.

Now that there is a third sibling in the mix, Gavin has gone back to calling Cameron by his given name more often. Yet Gavin hasn’t stopped emphasizing the importance of his big brother in his life. Now, if not being called “Brother”, Gavin often calls him “My Cameron.” And even though he is so new, Gavin knows exactly where his other brother fits in the family dynamic. To Gavin, Logan is either “My Logan” or “My baby”.

I always wanted my children to have siblings. One child just never seemed like an option for me. As I watch my kids grow up together, I find so much joy in seeing their friendship – their brotherhood – blossom. I am so glad they have each other.

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The Sneakers Make the Runner

I left my sneakers at my parents’ house this weekend. I forgot I had even pulled them out of the car this Easter weekend, and I really shouldn’t have, since I didn’t do any running while home for the holiday, but as anyone who tries to keep up some sort of regular running schedule knows, it is good to be prepared with sneakers.

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When I got the text from my mom with the horrifying news that my sneakers had been left behind, we were jut getting pre-roadtrip coffees not too far away from her house. I almost considered turning around to get them, but my father told me he’d be in Halifax within a day or two and could bring the sneakers to me. Saving the kids from an extra 15 minutes in the car when we had a four hour drive ahead of us was important, so we kept on going towards our home and away from those tried and true trainers.

Not everyone would consider me a runner. I’m certainly not anywhere close to an elite. At the moment, I can’t even run consequtively for five minutes. Over the past handful of years, my running career has had me training and re-training myself over and over to be able to run. I’ve been fast and slow, run 5K races and one particularly cool destination half-marathon. I even lumbered through a few races while pregnant. So quite honestly, by this point, regardless of the fact that my “runs” consist of more walking than running, I’m a runner dammit, and I am claiming that title proudly.

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It has been 6 days since I’ve last gone on a run and it is showing.

It isn’t showing in the way my pants fit or how many chins I currently have. It takes nine months to get a fully pregnant body, and I’m reminding myself that it also takes time to get this body back to its new normal too. Running will help, but the way I look isn’t why I run. No, I can tell that I haven’t run in a few days because I’m feeling incredibly cooped-up and overwhelmed. My time is devoted to raising these children and taking care of this house while my body is constantly being used as a jungle gym or a bottle or all the countless other things that the body of a wife and a mother is used for. These things are generally all good but there is a point in which it all becomes a little too much too.

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I reach that point often these days.

I run to feel and claim my body as mine. Running is to be present in my body and master over it. It is to declare that my body is not only a vessel for tiny humans and their milk. Those things make my body wonderful and powerful and give it meaning. But I need to declare that it is mine too. I need to recognize myself in the mirror through the stretched and saggy stomach skin, the chest scratches made from tiny fingers, and the luggage under my eyes. My body shouts at anyone who looks at it that I Am Mother! but I also need it to whisper the afterthought that I am also me.

In these early days, when I am just teaching my body to run again and praying that it responds, I run to escape. I go to the gym a few streets over and I plug in my headphones to watch some cable tv. I run for a few minutes and then walk for a few minutes on my very own treadmill that goes nowhere. But I don’t need it to go anywhere. The treadmill is the destination. Without that destination, I’d never have a reason to leave the house on my own. It doesn’t make sense to leave the baby at home unless I’m going to workout. And while I can’t be gone for long, a thirty minutes jog is easy to justify. I run because it is an acceptable escape.

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I love motherhood but in order to be good at it, I need this.

My Dad dropped off my sneakers today. If you’re looking for me tonight, I’ll be at the gym.

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How to Throw a Pokémon Birthday Party

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Those in the know know that my eldest boy loves Pokémon. While it certainly isn’t my preference that he constantly wants to watch the show on Netflix or that he talks incessantly about different Pokémon, their abilities, and recent battles, I can’t help but enjoy watching him embrace this current passion. When Cameron’s fifth birthday rolled around earlier this month, he insisted on having a “Pokémon Party”. That left me trying to figure out how to get the house ready, plan a themed party, and host a dozen 4-6 year-olds along with caring for the needs of my newborn. In short, I had so many other things to do, I needed to figure out how to plan an easy yet awesome Pokémon party.

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There are some amazing ideas for hosting a Pokémon birthday party online. I wish I had a chance to do more, but I avoided anything that took too much prep. I also had to make sure that everything was aimed towards preschoolers and that everything could be done indoors, since we’ve been buried in snow all month.

The coolest way to host a theme party is to create a story arc from the beginning to the end of the party. This is the best way to make the party seem way more awesome than it actually might be. The story for a Pokémon Party is clear:

  1. Capture your Pokémon
  2. Collect Badges
  3. Train Your Pokémon
  4. Battle
  5. Rest at the Pokémon Centre
  6. Travel Across The Land

Here’s how the story plays out at the birthday party:

Capture Your Pokémon

You’ll need:

  • Styrofoam balls
  • Markers or paint, depending on the time you have available and the age of the children. (Also, you can consider pre-painting the balls)
  • Googley eyes
  • Feathers
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Glue
  • Any other decorative item that could stick into the styrofoam or decorate it, like popsicle sticks or gems.

As soon as kids arrived at the party, they were encouraged to be creative and make their own Pokémon. They all got a styrofoam ball and created their Pokémon by colouring it, drawing faces, sticking feathers and pipe cleaners into it. Some kids spent time colouring the whole ball one or two colours (I apologize to their parents for how messy their hands were when they went home. Warning: Markers on styrofoam smudge.) Some didn’t use markers at all, but used the eyes, feathers, and pipe cleaners to make their Pokémon unique.

Level Up: While we didn’t do this, you can make this activity even cooler by encouraging kids to name their Pokémon. Then, snap a picture and send a parent to the computer to make Pokémon cards for each newly created Pokémon. Search “Pokemon card generator” on Google to make this process easy.

Collect Badges

Before the party, I found images of Pokémon badges. I replicated the image multiple times and printed it. Then, I glued the paper full of badges onto poster board and cut them out. These would be the Pokémon badges that the kids would collect throughout the rest of the party.

I gave each kid a party cup with their name written on it. The great thing about this was that the homemade Pokémon generally fit in the opening of the cup as well. This would be both their Pokémon’s home and their badge container.

Level Up: Learn what each of the badges mean and create games that reflect each badge. This may be more appropriate for older kids or a longer party.

Train Your Pokémon

Pokémon need to train in order to be ready for battle and to evolve (or so I gather). This part of the party involves a game that uses those cute little Pokémon the kids just made. Because I’m all about easy, I grabbed three cardboard boxes and set them up so that each one was a little further away from the kids. The kids stood in a designated spot and tried to throw their Pokémon in each box. They first tried to get it in the closest box. If they landed it, they got one badge. Then, they tried to toss their Pokémon into the second box. If landed, they gained two badges. Finally they threw for a third time and tried to get their Pokémon in the box that was furthest away. If they made that throw, they got three badges. Kids who landed all three boxes finished the game with a total of six badges.

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Level Up: Pick your kid’s favourite Pokémon and decorate each box with an image of the three evolution stages of the character. The first box can have the un-evolved Pokémon, box two can have the intermediate evolution and the third box can picture the fully evolved Pokémon.

Battle

Now is the time to get creative with party games. You can even set aside those little Poké-guys, but be sure to pick games that let the children continue to collect badges. Consider age and time limits when picking what game(s) to play. I made sure that everyone came out of the game with at least one badge, and we only really had time for one “battle” party game, so we did the balloon race.

Here are some Pokémon inspired party games that you can try:

Spoink Balloon Race: Spoink is a Pokémon who bounces on a spring and has a pink bubble on its head (who comes up with these things?). For this game, all you need is  starting line, a finish line, and some (pink) balloons. Kids run to the “finish line”, grab a balloon, and then try to get it back to the start by bouncing the balloon on their head. We pitted three kids at a time against each other at a time. The winner got three badges, second place got 2 badges, last place got 1 badge.

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Pin the Tail on the Pikachu: This is pretty self-explanatory

Gotta Catch ‘Em All: This game is particularly awesome if you have an outdoor space for the party. Hide Pokéballs (you can make these with ping pong balls. Place balls in an egg carton and paint one half of each ball red). The aim of the game is to find the most Pokéballs.

Pokédex: If you plan in advance, you can purchase tiny little Pokémon in bulk from Amazon (affiliate link). Fill a dish tub with beans and hide the Pokémon. Give kids a small amount of time to find as many Pokémon as they can. Consider letting the kids keep the Pokémon they find! If you can’t get tiny Pokémon, hide badges instead.

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Meloetta’s Song: Meloetta is a Pokémon whose melodies can make the Pokémon who hear them happy or sad. This game is played like musical chairs, but instead of chairs, party-goers walk around in a circle around Pokéballs (see above for how to make them) while music plays. There is always one fewer Pokéball than player. Once the music stops, everyone tries to grab a ball. The person who doesn’t get a ball is out, and the game continues until only one Pokémon trainer is victorious.

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How Many Caterpie?: Fill a jar with gummy worms and have kids guess how many worms are in the jar.

Caterpie

Rest at the Pokémon Centre

When the games are over, everyone returns to the “Pokémon Centre” for snacks, cake, and presents. Snacks and cake can be themed for the party, including Squirtle Spit or Lickilicky Liquids (beverage of choice), Pikachu Popcorn, Chimchar Chips, Charmander’s Fire Tails (cheezies), Mewtwo Melon Balls, Jigglypuff Jello, Wailord Water, Tagela’s Tangles (liquorice).

A Pokémon cake can be as easy or as hard as you make it. I made a round cake and covered half of it in strawberries to make a Pokéball. You can also do something similar with cupcakes or make Pokéball cake pops. I’ve also seen Pikachu cakes.

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Travel Across The Land

(There’s a lyric in the Pokemon theme song that says “I will travel across the land / Searching far and wide / Each Pokémon to understand / The Power that’s inside).

I decided to forgo treat bags this time (though it is totally possible to create cute little Pokéball treat bags). Instead, I picked up prizes from the Dollar Store. The kids counted their badges and the person with the most got to pick the first prize. Then, the person with the second highest amount of badges got to pick the second prize, and so on. My prizes were pretty simple – things like foam swords and silly putty and dinosaurs. However, if I had an unlimited budget, I would have absolutely chosen to have a plush Pokémon for each kid.

And that was our Pokémon party.

What TV show themed birthday parties have you thrown?

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I am a member of Netflix’s Stream Team and as such I have been compensated with a complementary Netflix subscription and a few other perks. The stories and opinions are all my own and have not been bought.

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