It’s My Gift Card and I’ll Spend If I Want To

The Boy is at a tricky age for gifts.

At 11 years old, all he wants to do is read, play video games, ride his bike, play Lego or watch TV (not necessarily in that order).

So in September, when friends and family were asking me for birthday gift ideas for him, I was at a loss. If I couldn’t come up with something fun and original to give him myself, what could I tell them?

Enter the gift card.

This year, he received several: Walmart, Chapters, EB Games…enough to go on a bit of a shopping spree. And that’s exactly what he wanted to do, the minute the party guests were out the door.

Time for a little background…Luc and I, overall, have similar values when it comes to money. We don’t live extravagantly and we try to live within our means. We never carry a balance on our credit cards. We hate debt and can’t wait until we’re mortgage-free. And while we may approach the purchase of big-ticket items differently, we usually both end up comfortable and satisfied with our spending and saving habits.

So why, then, did The Boy’s birthday gift cards become such an issue?

If I understand correctly (and Luc WILL correct me if I’m wrong!) Luc saw the gifts cards as:

  1. an opportunity to teach The Boy about managing his money
  2. a lesson in appreciating when you already have enough of a thing and
  3. an exercise in delayed gratification

While I saw the gift cards as:

  1. a chance to go SHOPPING!!!

OK, so when I see it written down, I concede that Luc does have a point (or three). Yes, The Boy needs to learn that just because you have money in your pocket (or on your plastic) doesn’t mean you have to go out and spend it all. And yes, The Boy has so many books, video games and Legos that honestly, he doesn’t need any more. And YES, if he held onto his gift cards, he could buy something he really wants later, as opposed to something he kinda wants right now just for the sake of spending.

But I also stand by my argument that had he not received gift cards for the things he wants most, he would have received the items themselves (because really, what else are you going to buy for an 11-year-old boy?). He’d be reading the books, building the Lego sets and playing the video games the minute he tore the wrapping paper off. So if the gift cards were given in the spirit of The Boy getting himself something he wants for his birthday, then he should be allowed to go out and get himself something he wants, parental misgivings be damned.

In the end, we reached a compromise. The Boy immediately spent his Chapters gift card on a new book (because, as book lovers ourselves, how could we deny him that?). And he was also allowed to spend his Walmart gift card in full with the caveat that it NOT be spent on a video game (he bought a Pokemon DVD and a Minecraft stuffy…still not what I would have chosen for him, but they are his gifts, after all). As for the EB Games cards (three of them) we instructed him to hang onto those until November, when the new Pokemon video game he really, totally, absolutely has to have is being released (instead of wasting them on a lessor game now and not having the money to afford the other later).

All in all, I think we worked this one out well.

But just for the record: If I get any gift cards for Christmas…I’m going SHOPPING!!!

Check out Luc’s thoughts on birthday gift cards.


Family Guilt Trips

OK, technically our topic this week is “Family Outings” but isn’t “Family Guilt Trips” more accurate?

Join me for our most recent guilt trip (I mean outing) en famille

Point of Departure: I’m a Sucky Parent

This past Sunday at one point mid-morning each one of us was sitting in front of a different screen (the girl in front of the TV watching Bubble Guppies, the boy on his 3DS playing Pokemon something-or-other, Luc on his office computer shooting tanks, and me on the laptop reading blogs).

This is usually where our guilt trips start. I look around, don’t like what I see, decide I’m a sucky parent and insist that we unplug and do something FUN. As a FAMILY. Something that doesn’t involve a SCREEN. (So no, my darlings, we will not be going to the theatre to see The Croods on this beautiful, sunny Sunday. Even if it is as a family. Nice try, though.)

I spend a lot of time in I’m a Sucky Parent. So much so that I’m no longer a tourist there, I’m a permanent resident.

The Itinerary: Get the Hell Out of the House

As mentioned, it’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday. The skies are a stunning shade of blue, there’s not a cloud to be seen and the breeze is brisk. It’s gorgeous out.

Did I mention I don’t like the great outdoors? Nope, not even on a beautiful, sunny, brisk spring Sunday. I have absolutely no inclination to change out of my comfy PJs, put on my sneakers and leave my laptop and my coffee behind to go biking or hiking or whatever it is those non-sucky parents do with their kids. But I feel bad that my children are missing out on family time, that they’re growing up to have no appreciation for nature, and that they’re turning into socially inept techno-dependant couch potatoes with really dry eyes and carpal tunnel syndrome.

These guilt trips have so many layers…kinda like an onion (thank you, Donkey). Kinda stinks like an onion too. So off we go to blow the stink off us.

Destination: Somewhere Remote Enough That It’s Interesting But Close Enough So We Can Be Home in Time for Lunch

We’re lucky…we’re surrounded by nature here in Ottawa. We’ve got rivers, waterfalls, forests, trails, parks and more. But because we’ve wasted most of our morning (GUILT! We should have started out earlier!) we need to pick someplace close by. Luckily Mer Bleue Bog is a short drive away (GUILT! We shouldn’t be taking the car!) And although it would be fun to add a lunch out to our outing, the kids would choose McDonald’s, where they just went with Grand-maman and Grand-papa last week (GUILT!) and I just spent a ridiculous amount of money on groceries (GUILT!) so we can’t very well let all of that good-for-us food go to waste (GUILT! GUILT! GUILT!)

It’s a bumpy take-off. But we make it.

Sightseeing: A Whole Lot of Really Spectacular Nothing

Last week our beautiful city was still covered in snow. Not a lot has happened spring-wise since then. OK, the robins are back, but apparently they’re not hanging out at the bog. Neither are the beavers, deer, foxes, coyotes or raccoons the interpretive panels would have you believe. Not even a frog, a turtle, or a dragon-fly to be seen.

But the kids found it…FASCINATING!


Look! Over here! There’s still a thin layer of ice on the water!


Look! Over there! That clump of grass is drifting in the wind!


Cool! The boardwalk is flooded in that part!

Awesome! Check out the beaver dam!

Awesome! Check out the beaver dam!

Wow! A tree!

Wow! A tree!

The Return Home: Where to Next?

OK, so it was guilt that kicked us in the butt, got us out of the house and had us doing something as a family. No, it didn’t come naturally (so to speak) and it wasn’t anything extraordinary, but it ended up being a great outing. Who knew a 45-minute walk around a bog could be so much fun?

Maybe next Sunday we’ll head out a little earlier and go somewhere a little further away for a little longer. Maybe this will become a habit. Maybe I’ll finally be able to hand in my passport to I’m a Sucky Parent.

Who am I kidding. I’ll always at least retain dual citizenship. If I gave it up, I’d feel guilty.


Our beautiful, sunny, brisk spring Sunday. Aaah.

Check out Luc’s thoughts on family outings.

We Are Family…I mean “Famille”

IMG_0374In Grade 4, I fell in love with all things French.

OK, that’s not entirely accurate.

In Grade 4, I fell in love with Rémi. He was the new boy in the class and he was French (which, if you’re paying attention, you can tell from the accent in his name). He was fresh from Québec City, didn’t speak a word of English and was my on-again, off-again, he-thinks-you’re-cute-do-you-think-he’s-cute boyfriend until Grade 8 when his family packed up and moved back to La belle province.

Grade 4 was also the year that, coincidentally, we started learning French in school. And the year that Madame Benjaminsen–who recognized a budding Francophile in her class–let me borrow one of her records to listen to at home. It was the debut album by a little girl called Céline who was topping the charts in French Canada and starting to break onto the international music scene.

It took me until about Grade 12 to really grasp the notion that French was a language people actually spoke in order to communicate as opposed to just walking around and reciting “Je suis, tu es, il est, elle est…” or singing. What a break-through! I spent the summer I turned 18 at a tiny school in the South of France, immersed for the first time in the language I loved. Followed by a summer in rural Quebec. Followed by four years of university studying French language and literature at Western in London. Interrupted by a year studying French as a second language at Laval in Québec City (I think Rémi walked past me at the mall one day, but I can’t be sure…) Followed by two years at Ottawa U. studying translation.

So it came as no real surprise to me that during my 5th year of post-secondary éducation I met and fell in love with Luc. Who is French (which, if you’re paying attention, you can tell from the odd way he spells his name).

But Luc, who was born and raised in the nation’s capital by French-speaking parents who were born and raised in the nation’s capital, is a whole different breed of French Canadian. He’s Franco-Ontarien. Which, loosely translated means “exceptionally proud of the fact that he is Canadian and speaks French as his first language and wasn’t born in the province of Québec and don’t you dare ever call him a Quebecer or suggest that French Canadians don’t exist anywhere in the country outside of Québec because he will take it as a personal insult and make it his mission to either convince you otherwise or beat the merde out of you depending on whether or not there is beer involved.”

So it was a no-brainer when we had kids that we would be raising them bilingual.

For the most part it’s working. The kids speak both English and French. They read in both English and French. They listen to music, watch TV and take in movies in both English and French.

But it’s not without its challenges. Most of their friends on the street speak only English. My side of the family speaks only English. They are bombarded with English ads, English celebrities, English everything all the time. And as a result, when the two of them are alone, they default to English.

I don’t see this as a huge problem. As an Anglo, I’m just happy that my kids go to French school, can seamlessly switch from one language to the other when Grand-maman calls, and will go to the top of the list of eligible candidates when they end up working for the federal government in 15 years. (Cuz we live in Ottawa. It’s inevitable.)

But Luc is much more sensitive to the fact that his “bilingual” kids are more Anglo than Franco. He hounds them to speak French when they’re playing in English. He threatens to send them to English school if they don’t shape up.

While I see our bilingual family as being so much more–linguistically and culturally–than the unilingual English family I grew up in, I think at some level Luc sees us as less–linguistically and culturally–than the unilingual French family he did. There’s a loss there for him, where I see a gain.

There are nuances to language. And no matter how fluently bilingual you become–how much you read and study and immerse yourself–sometimes, even if you’re doing your best to pay really close attention, there are things that just can’t be translated.

Voici les pensées de Luc sur le sujet de notre famille bilingue.