Her name was Miss Ritcey. She wore tweed skirt suits, sensible shoes, and a hint of a smile.
A few of us were pulled from our classrooms once a week and taken to the library to spend the morning with her. We sat in table groups, hardly believing our luck.
On our first day, she called us into a circle, and said quietly, “A boy wants to go home, but there is a man with a mask in his way. Who is the man in the mask?” We were allowed to ask her questions with yes or no answers. We fell over ourselves coming up with possibilities, before realizing the key to the answer was asking the right question. We finally got to the idea of sport, and then baseball, and the answer: the man was the catcher for the other team – the boy was afraid of being tagged out. It was drastically different from the Halloween or horror ideas that initially popped into our collective heads.
From then on, we were hooked. Unaccustomed to learning being fun or engaging, her class was like a mirage to a delirious desert traveler. Days spent in our regular classroom dragged by, while we waited for that quiet knock which signaled her presence in the building.
She lead us in discussions ranging from books to science. We did the talking. She mostly listened. Everything fascinated her.
When she did speak, she was quiet and deliberate and began all of her sentences with, “Now, people.” As though we were adults. As though we were important. As though she was giving the Throne Speech instead of addressing a motley group of kids aged ten to twelve.
For those few hours each week in the library, it was cool to be a geek. No idea was ridiculous. No question was stupid. No contribution went unnoticed.
We became our very best selves. Freed from chalkboard pointers, we dared to dream. We learned what it meant to think outside the box. We were encouraged to be different. We were encouraged to be daring. Miss Ritcey often smiled, but never laughed. We emulated her, and listened carefully to our classmates, used our powers of critical thinking to debate ideas rather than dismiss them out of hand.
She didn’t need to raise her voice. Robbie and Jennifer – prone to misbehaving – sat quietly for a change. We were all in awe of our wise teacher, mesmerized by her serene aura. Lulled by the calm oasis she created, despite it being in the basement of the school, where three rows of books amounted to the library. Her presence induced a pavlovian response to learning, cobwebs cleared from our brains and we readied for takeoff.
From grades four to eight, Miss Ritcey parachuted into our school, a Mary Poppins amongst mortal teachers. After that I never saw her again. I never kept in touch. She was constantly on the move, rotating schools around the city, and it was long before email existed. Dropping by to see her wasn’t an option. I haven’t seen or heard of her for thirty years, but I will never forget. Her voice was one of reason, her body was one of composure, her pores reeked wisdom and the palest scent of Chloe, and especially the unwavering respect she showed each and every one of us.
Miss Sally Ritcey, wherever you are, you encouraged us to believe in ourselves, instilled in us a hunger for knowledge, and a desire to be different. Thank you.
“Wisdom begins in wonder.” – Socrates
Who was the teacher that made a difference in your life?
I’ve always meant to get acquainted with the inner workings of our house. Being the biggest investment I’ll ever make, I thought I would find the time to learn what the hell all those pipes and wires are all about.
My intentions were pure.
But our first house was a fifty-year old split level, and the mechanical room was located in what can only be described as a decrepit dungeon. The furnace and some other contraptions were perched on a mass of exposed rock. Many a creature made their homes amongst the dirt floor and granite, cobwebs made up the vast selection of art in the corners.
My enthusiasm for the details waned.
When I turned up the thermostat, the furnace kicked in. The water flowed plentifully from the taps. The mice staked their territory, and upstairs, I staked mine. All was good, and perhaps ignorance was bliss.
Then we decided to build a house, and I assumed this would be my chance. The mystery of what pipe held what would naturally unveil itself to me as I laboured alongside the many trades that came and went. But the only thing that unveiled itself to me was my impatience with the project, and how interminably slow it was. The plumbers and electricians came and went with their leather holsters and tape measures, and honestly, I was just happy to see the back side of them leaving.
In my haste to have it finished, I missed it being built.
So in the following years, when things occasionally went wrong, and I needed to direct a handyman/plumber/man with toolbox to the mechanical room, I would wave them in the general vicinity, because truth be told I couldn’t tell our air exchanger from our wifi portal. A couple of the wisecrackers, who understood my vagueness for ignorance, commented, didn’t you build this house? And I did what I always do when caught out; I pretended not to hear.
So when our hot water started disappearing three days ago, I willfully ignored it. But freezing cold showers can only be ignored for so long.
A nice boy from the local heating and plumbing shop (is it just me or do they seem younger and younger?) donned his booties and asked me to show him the water heater.
I froze. I should really have located the water heater before he came. Then I babbled about how we had just moved in, all the while moving towards the mechanical room where, surely, the water heater must be. Or was that the central vacuum?
As soon as I switched on the light he confidently strode towards a box in the corner, and I exhaled. There is nothing I loathe more than feeling like the dumb housewife that I am. I seized on this opportunity for learning; no tradesman gets to quietly go about his work undeterred in my house at $100 an hour.
So, how does this thing work, anyway, I asked.
To his credit, he actually tried to tell me. But as soon as he started talking, my mind left the mechanical room and entered the arena of what I should make for dinner. I instantly regretted my feeble attempt towards self-fulfillment. He rambled on and on. I stared past his full head of hair (not one of which was grey) at the maze of pipes, but then noticed he was quizzically looking past me. He stepped around me and flicked a switch that was beside my shoulder. A piece of masking tape above it read boiler.
There you go, problem solved. On his way out the door, I launched into my (now familiar) spiel, about how silly I am, I can’t believe I didn’t check that switch. Not that I knew that switch was there, mind you.
No problem, happens all the time, he lied. All this to say that ignorance, while blissful, can also be expensive.
Instead of reading her a story, I laid down with my eight-year old, Ella, and I told her about the Boston Marathon that would take place the next morning.
I told her it is the most popular and iconic marathon in the world, it is the crowning glory for thousands of runners, who log hundreds of solitary miles in preparation. It overtakes the city for the weekend, packing out the world famous pasta joints in the north end and clogging Logan International with runner-clad travelers. It has an atmosphere all of its own, uniquely Bostonian, and someday, I hope she will experience it first hand, and I will come and cheer her on.
It is chilling and saddening to think this very same conversation could easily have been repeated in the household of eight-year old victim, Martin Richard.
It’s been three years since I ran Boston, and being there was a dream come true – as boring as that sounds it is crazily accurate. A seed was planted in my head with a surprisingly fast (for me) half marathon time.
That was it. This odd thing on my computer screen told me I could qualify for Boston, and I decided it would be foolish of me not to try; computers aren’t dumb. I trained, qualified, and registered for the race I had always dreamed of doing, but never believed I could. I tell you this because people who are not runners may not realize that Boston is more than a race, it’s a lofty badge of honour.
In racing terms, my result was disappointing, but the experience of running it was anything but. Every mile was filled with laughter and inspiration, and kinship with the other runners in my midst. Some things you can’t put a clock to, Boston being chief among them. I didn’t want that race, that journey filled with people – the very best of people – running into their dreams, to ever end.
And so, for someone to mar this event, this moment for thousands of amateur runners like myself, who feel like running Boston is the closest they will come to glory on a grand stage, is particularly vile and upsetting.
My friend, who had finished the race and was waiting to meet his buddy when he heard the bombs, wrote an emotional email to his many supporters after the tragedy. He wrote, “marathon runners are such amazing, peaceful people, and everyone is walking around with their heads down instead of celebrating.”
But of course, there is another side to the story. Someone – maybe just one person – planted those bombs. Hundreds, and by now likely thousands, in different ways, jumped forward to help. I responded to his email:
“When things are senseless, there’s no point in trying to make sense of them. On another note, though, did you see the people who immediately ran towards the smoke? See, there is hope and humanity all around us, let’s concentrate on their huge contributions, and not the crazy bastards who attempt to ruin our world.”
For its victims and their families, their worlds stopped yesterday, and for those people we collectively grieve and mourn. Yet, I can’t stop replaying the images of the hundreds of people trying to help. To all those who didn’t think of dangerous consequences, and selflessly did what they could for the injured, thank you thank you thank you for your bravery. You give us hope.
So for me, Boston will still be Boston, filled with unlikely heroes and courageous runners, spectators and officials alike. And maybe one day, my daughter will run this marathon, and I will stand on Boyleston Street and cheer her on.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been twenty-four years since my last confession.
I grew up in a Catholic family and, as the youngest of nine children, feel somewhat indebted to its doctrines, particularly the one that frowned on birth control. But from an early age, I recall being miffed by the absence of women on the alter each Sunday. Quite simply, any church which marginalized women could be no church for me, no disrespect intended to my parents. A feminist was born, aged five.
Its treatment of women was only the beginning of a slew of reasons to turn my back on the church: sex scandals and mistreatment of children, attitudes towards homosexuality, and in general an unwillingness to move with the times combined to make me wary of organized religion.
And yet, there are good memories; chief among them my bi-annual obligatory confession. I looked forward to a little tete-a-tete with a faceless priest, to explain whatever was heavy on my heart, and generally got very good advice from behind the iron screen. It was like free therapy. (My siblings preferred General Absolution, whereby you were resolved of your sins just by sitting in the congregation, but that seemed impossible to me, logistically.) Besides the boredom of attending mass each week, religion had an overall positive impact on my life.
So despite eschewing the church as an adult, I’ve been interested in the recent developments in the Vatican, and I suppose in the same way I cheer for the Canadian water polo team during the Olympics, affiliated by country, I’ve been cheering for the Catholic Church, affiliated by my upbringing, and for reform possible with the appointment of a new Pope.
And with the selection of Pope Francis, a Jesuit from Buenos Aires, who is by all accounts humble and saintly, not to mention the first Pope from the Americas, I feel a twinge of hope for my religious Alma Mater.
Before I look forward, I need to do a shoulder check.
Life as a parent means primarily a life of never ending errands, punctuated by making meals and driving to after school activities, so I like to look back to prove to myself my life isn’t one long grocery list. There are other things that move me forward as a human being; a growing and learning and therefore interesting human being – it’s just hard to remember them. Although my life revolves, irrevocably, around my children, I still want to have a little orbit of my own. A part that is separate from my mothering role, so that when they fly the coop I won’t streak out of the Milky Way altogether.
Normally, when I reflect on a year, I figure out what ages and grades my children were in, and go from there. So 2009 was the year of grades 5, 3 and kindergarten. From there I recall the teachers, who largely made up my social circle that year, and then recall the activities they were involved with, the coaches of whom completed my social circle, and so on.
Exciting stuff. I will inevitably do this with 2012. But of course, there was more to my year than how much homework my children did or didn’t have. Fantastic moments that were sandwiched in between orthodontic appointments and marinating pork tenderloin. Some of them involved amazing friends and family members, while others were found in quieter times within the pages of a book or in the stillness of the forest. It’s not an exhaustive list, but here are a few highlights of my 2012:
- It was a year of real estate: I didn’t move mountains, but I moved our family to a new neighborhood. A simple sentence that explains six months of headaches. Not so much a highlight as much as an achievement, but let’s not quibble over details.
- I found wisdom, epiphanies, and triumphs in stories – too many books to list, but The Dovekeepers, When God Was a Rabbit, The History of Love, and Cloudstreet were a few of my favorite reads.
- The wise powers at Lululemon advise me to do something everyday that scares you. I did one thing in 2012: I sent my rough draft of my novel to an editor. It took 364 days to work up to it, in my defense.
- What’s a year without a soundtrack? If using the stereo of my youth, I’d have worn out the needle playing Bon Iver, Hey Rosetta, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and Kathleen Edwards over and over again, but luckily the digital versions are showing no signs of wear. The concert of the year easily goes to The Lumineers, who lit up the Vogue theater like no band I’ve seen.
- I started swimming with a masters group. In my first week I swam more lengths of the pool than I had my entire life. And I’m old, so you do the math.
- We vacationed in beautiful paradises, both near and far, but 2012 will go down as the year that I finally went to the city that Frank Sinatra crooned about. The one that is the setting for so many movies, books, and reality television shows that I felt like I knew it like the freckles on my daughters nose. I had to resist the urge to tell my cabbie to take Atlantic Avenue rather than the Long Island Expressway to get to JFK. It was weird.
There. It’s recorded for posterity – moments of magic amongst the mundane – these assorted flickers of joy help to distinguish my 2012 from the thousands of carrots I’ve peeled. They may pale in comparison to watching my children grow into astonishingly astute beings, but these moments, purely mine, help me to appreciate my little shooting stars even more.
When the inflatable Santa appeared on my neighbour’s lawn on November 1st, eclipsing even the towering Douglas Fir behind it, I knew it was coming. For not I, the Grinch, Hurricane Sandy, or the war-torn Middle East could stop Christmas from rolling into town and dominating the lives of those that celebrate it.
There’s much to say about this season in the snow, people love it or abhor it, everyone has a shopping tip, drunk staff Christmas party story, or recipe to share. But in the same way my hunger instantly disappears when faced with an All-You-Can-Eat buffet, I’m stymied; am I in the love or hate camp? I’m not sure. On any given day, at different moments, I could be either.
I love the idea of giving my kids something they will be over the moon excited about, but hate the fact that this dream necessitates me tearing around the city and stalking malls everyday of December. (I know, I shop online too, but still need to grab most of the stuff in person. Call me traditional, but I’m saving a fortune in shipping fees.)
It’s a Wonderful Life. Elf. Christmas Vacation. Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Yeeeeeesssssss! Frosty the Snowman. Santa Buddies. Nooooooooooo!
Invite me to a party and I will be there – I happen to be gifted at merrymaking. The constant low-grade headache I have throughout December is another matter.
The memories of my childhood eyes seeing Santa through the crack of light in my door are precious; the ghosts of boyfriends past I could live without.
I hate the rain that is inevitably present in our city, but the snow on our mountains? Sign. Me. Up.
My joy of giving starts out strong early in the season, but by the time I’ve found a box of chocolates for the piano teacher, my daughter’s other best friend, and the barista that occasionally remembers my name, it snaps from joyful to snarly.
I held back tears of pride at my oldest daughters’ first Christmas concert; ten years and two kids later they are tears of boredom, and frustration that the tallest father in the school sits in front of me every year.
My children are not sure if they will return from school to a mother baking shortbread while cheerfully singing the incorrect lyrics to Santa Baby, or one savagely Gorilla-gluing the gingerbread house together (because why, for the love of god, does my roof always cave in?) When it comes to Christmas, I’m fifty shades of grey, fifty shades of red and green.
Love it, hate it, or Switzerland – what’s your verdict on Christmas?
writing prompt: flawed
(Sigh) – It was just okay. I liked Breaking Dawn Part 2, but I didn’t love it; much as I wanted to. Yet it’s one of those things where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – like a Jackson Pollock painting, the splotches of colour don’t mean anything in isolation, but together, the canvas is captivating. You can’t think of this movie as its own entity, but rather as the final farewell to this cast of vampires and werewolves we’ve come to admire, or at least, enjoy looking at.
This last installment of the Twilight series seemed to miss a hint of the magic that laced the others. I missed the love triangle between Jacob, Edward and Bella. The alternate tension invented for tension purposes (between the same three, but because of Renesmee) can’t compete. And as this tension has waned, so has the (almost, at times) witty dialogue. I wanted more of Charlie, and less of the vampires from all corners of the earth. Edward has lost some of his magnetism, but that could be the most recent Kristen Stewart sex scandal’s influence on me, I’m not sure.
There were many things I did like. Here are a few:
-sitting in a movie theater in a plush seat, with no one pulling on my arm, shoveling popcorn into my mouth
-watching beautiful vampires with perfect skin (shame about the eyes)
-its dramatic cinematography and incredible scenery, filmed in the very same woods and trails where I love to run (albeit not as fast as Bella and Edward, but a girl can dream)
-the concept that the unlikeliest of loves can persevere
So even though this last movie wasn’t all we Twi-hard fans hoped for, it was still great to see them; the Cullens, Bella, Jacob, and Edward, and all of their beauty, with their problems that are not of this world; projected on a gigantic screen for us to admire, forcing us to leave more pressing issues at the ticket booth, at least for two hours.
My daughter and her thirteen year-old friends agreed in unison that most of all, they were sad the saga had come to an end. I would concur, but at the same time, the story had clearly run its course; arguably one movie ago. It was time to say good-bye.
I have my ticket in my hot little hands and I’m excited.
We’re off to see Breaking Dawn Part 2 tonight – my teenage daughter works well as a prop in this instance – and I can’t wait to see Bella as a vampire. I was born to be a vampire, she says in the trailer, and I was born to fall in love with people (or werewolves, vampires, robots, whatever) falling in love on gigantic screens while eating popcorn. We all have our things.
I realize it’s not cool for a person of my vintage to love the Twilight series, and I have patiently waited for the super-crazy Twilight fans among us to attend their midnight showings and wait in line for hours to see the movie during opening week. I’m a fan but I’m not an idiot. I’m hoping for an empty seat in front of me on which to fold my coat, ensuring a clear view of the shirtless Jacob.
I’m bemused that even after four movies, the series isn’t getting old for me, unlike the Sex and the City movies, which should have died on the table after movie number one. Will tonight be the final straw? Will Edward’s sparkling skin no longer appeal? Will the vampire and werewolf culture fail to interest me? Will I be done with this love triangle, and be happy to say goodbye to rainy Forks? Will I finally have outgrown my addiction?
It’s inspiring to watch someone realize a dream, more so when that person is your friend.
So I was excited to see Onelight‘s gig in Gastown on Saturday night, since the vocalist and keyboardist is Amy, a fellow mom I used to huddle beside while waiting to pick our children up from Kindergarten.
Back then, four years ago, when we chatted about how little we had accomplished while the kids were at school, my list went something like “I did laundry but didn’t get around to folding it”; and hers went, “I wrote music.”
I was amazed and humbled at the dichotomy between our answers. From then on, I invented more imaginative chores and threw in some volunteer work, but Amy’s answer remained steadfast. Making music was her dream.
Watching her up on stage, singing and playing keyboard and clearly in her element, was incredible. It was inspiration and hope and perseverance and courage all rolled into one moment. Aside from being a fantastic listening experience, it made me wonder what else I could accomplish during the day. It was a nudge towards grabbing life, like Amy has, and getting what you want from it.
The music of Onelight, is far more layered and richer than I thought possible from the duo of Amy and her music partner, Hamish. It had a mystical quality to it, a cadence of thoughtfulness, and an unmistakeable originality. Two talented musicians intent on making their distinctive imprint on music for our listening pleasure.
As they embark on a tour of India, and Amy sails off into the wide world of music and the many opportunities her talents will bring, I will listen to her lyrical, lovely voice, fold my laundry, and then get on with pursuing my dreams.
The small, benign, white box arrived with a knock and a wink from the postman. It looked harmless enough.
Yet it caused a firestorm of bouncing activity from my children. “Open it! Open it!” they screamed in unison, and I promised I would, if they would only come down from the rafters. “Aren’t you excited?’ my daughter asked me, once she was floor bound. I warily told her this little box was about to cause me a whole world of pain and frustration, so no, I wasn’t.
From their perspective, these innocent babes, all you needed to do was turn it on and begin enjoying your new iPhone 5, gaze at its vivid images, marvel at its lightness, and then download every gaming app known this side of Silicon Valley. If only. The seasoned veteran within me knew that opening this was akin to Pandora opening her box and unleashing evil on the world. That is if you equate evil with many hours of wrestling with technology, as I do.
Among my many hats I wear, the one I like almost as little as digging mold out of the seam of the kitchen sink is that of the Chief Technical Officer. I deftly donned it, brim at the back, before finding a knife to slice open the plastic that was tightly wound around the source of my future angst.
In this department, the angst one, that is, it has not disappointed. In the last week I have been to the local Rogers store for a new SIM card, since the one they had sent couldn’t be read. I went to the Apple store after my emails were not downloading, and they fixed it by doing a hard reset.
All before I had tried to sync it with my desktop computer. Cue the pain.
The whole point of getting this iPhone was to have my calendar on hand at all times. But because my desktop is ancient, being from 2007, they told me I have to upgrade my operating system in order to reap the benefits of iCloud. I pursed my lips and thought about the last time I upgraded my operating system, and about how my printer has never worked the same since. Oh no, they assured me, Lion is nothing like Leopard, it will be much smoother! Easy as pie.
I hit the ‘purchase’ button, and then spent the rest of the day fixing everything I cursed in that flash moment. My emails are organized poorly, my calendar is not as vibrant and in an inferior font, the music system in our house immediately went quiet, but most importantly, my treasured Microsoft Word, gone. GONE from my dock. I can barely make out the remnants of the W that once stood for ease and happiness in my world, a big circle with a line through it indicating I can no longer access it.
I haven’t tried to print anything yet, I can only handle so much at once.
I’m still in recovery mode, now researching whether I should buy Microsoft office 2011 or if I should buy Apple’s cheaper word equivalent, Pages. Slightly irritated, but still hopeful that this will be the last frontier I must scale before skating down that easy iPhone path promised by so many.