It’s June, and I’m tired.
Tired of making lunches and putting grapes into plastic containers that are returned at the end of the day unopened, or worse, at the end of the week as a mold experiment. Tired of washing an endless cycle of water bottles. Tired of cleaning out knapsacks with crumpled bits of paper I was supposed to read last week. Tired of nagging my kids to do their homework, put away their rain boots, and for the love of Miss Carroll, hang up their school bags.
The routines and good intentions of September melt into puddles of torment by June, and I need school to end already so I can fantasize about summer.
But aside from the rivulets of hell that June represents to parents nationwide, June also means local strawberries, and local strawberries, for me, can mean only one thing. Strawberry shortcake. Because what’s life if you can’t take something perfectly healthy and make it into something naughty?
Aha. Stop right there. Strawberry shortcake need not be naughty. Nope, nada, nien. Substitute the whip cream or ice cream for vanilla flavoured Greek yogurt and voila, a healthy dessert is born. I discovered this when I opened the empty ice cream container that was in our freezer, and was determined that my strawberry hulling would not be in vain. Who does that? Who among you puts an empty container back in the freezer?
I’m not known for my culinary genius, so when I make a rare discovery in the kitchen, I need to get out the megaphone. And it fits within my criteria of five minute turn-around, leaving me time to dream about swinging in a hammock this summer. Like that’s going to happen.
Whole Lot of Protein Strawberry Shortcake: Feeds 4 and takes 4 minutes, unless you mistake your thumb for a strawberry, which I may or may not have done.
1 pint of local strawberries
1 packet of tea biscuits (Whole Foods makes them better than me)
500 ml 0% vanilla flavoured Greek yogurt
Clean and chop strawberries avoiding thumbs, spoon over halved biscuits, top with yogurt, and thank me tomorrow. Off to buy my hammock.
If ever there was a mother who didn’t desire her daughter to be a cheerleader, it is moi.
So naturally, my teenage daughter is hellbent on being one. With Naomi Wolf as my witness, I didn’t see this one coming. Either irony is beautiful, or else someone is playing a divine trick, I’m not sure which.
Note: this is a cheer club, not wave a pompom when the football team takes the field, cheerleading. The idea is they work on routines (at ridiculously inopportune times) and enter competitions (in the middle of nowhere). If anything, it is even slightly more pointless.
Nothing against cheerleading, except for the stereotype. And the fact that they wear more makeup on their faces than clothes on their body. And it objectifies girls not yet women. And it attracts a certain person that may not be the best influence. And there are a thousand other activities I would rather her spend her time on. The debating club, for instance.
There are many reasons I don’t want her to join competitive cheerleading. Everyday she asks, and everyday I throw out a different way of saying no (you could break your neck being today’s flavour). But somewhere in my head I worry that I should let her be who she wants to be. I agree it’s important that kids express themselves, and that those parents who get in the way of that expression are doing a disservice to their children. When she wanted to wear mismatched clothing, I was cool with that.
But this is different, and so I’m choosing to ignore that little voice in my head, and go with my gut instinct, the instinct that draws the line in the sand just before cheer club, and makes me unpopular. The consequences are large and possibly, unforgiving. I might pay for this for years to come, but then I may thank myself, too.
These children should have come with specific directions attached. What would you do?
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?
As a parent, there is nothing better than introducing your children to things that you loved as a child, and watching the amazement on their face as they likewise are enamored by that same thing.
Or not, as may be the case. In fact, as always seems to be the case. That is to say, if I loved something as a child, it is almost a certainty that my children will abhor it.
Now, in both my and their defense, things like technology have come a long way in my thirty or so years (#liar!). With movies, for instance, special effects have evolved to the point where it is almost impossible for my kids to enjoy the same movies I loved. When I staged a screening of Pete’s Dragon for my children, my hopeful enthusiasm that they would cherish Eliot and Pete’s friendship as much as I did quickly went south when they started laughing in all the wrong places. Same thing with Bedknobs and Broomsticks and The Shaggy D.A.
But they are vintage, I explained. It was a simpler time, you have to ignore the grainy picture, the poor acting, and the strange voice-overs.
They choose their movies now.
I moved on to books, and enjoyed a small window of success. I introduced my charges to The Paper Bag Princess and Where the Wild Things Are, with huge fanfare. When they asked me to reread these at night, my confidence in my tiny self was restored. Oh yeah, who’s your momma now?
As a fan of books, my kids are used to me shoveling them down their throats. I know, I know, I should back off, let them come to titles on their own terms, but I can’t help myself. YOU. MUST. LOVE. THIS. My enthusiasm gets the best of me. I can’t be tamed.
Yet with certain things I truly
obsessed over loved, I tried to take a more delicate path, in order to ensure success. Since I know from past experience, when I return from the library with an armload of books for my kids, I’m met with three eye rolls, I have purposefully kept my lips sealed about the best book ever written for adolescents. The Outsiders, duh.
I speak for the generation of teenagers who listened to Kool and the Gang when I explain what The Outsiders meant to me. Despite never knowing how to properly pronounce The Socs, this book, about a family of orphaned boys and their peers, the Greasers, stole my heart and my imagination and made me pine for chocolate cake for breakfast. I went on to read every book S.E. Hinton ever wrote and wore out our Betamax machine replaying Francis Ford Coppola’s movie adaptation. Ponyboy, Sodapop, and Dally, ripped from Teen Beat magazine, adorned my walls. I committed half of the screenplay, including Robert Frost’s poem that Johnny reads, to memory, and in times of trouble I quietly utter, ‘stay gold, Ponyboy,’ which has been met with quizzical looks.
This gem of a book I’ve been saving, wanting to offer it to my own flesh and blood at just the right moment. Several times I held it in my trembling hands in the library, only to kiss it and replace it on the shelf. It’s not time, said a voice in my head, similar to Darth Vader’s.
Then, goddammit, the school system stole my thunder, and my daughter brought it home for required reading – required reading being the kiss of death for any novel. (Note that the school telling you to read a novel and your own mother telling you to read a novel are radically different.) It took me years to come around to Charles Dickens after being force fed Great Expectations, so I can relate.
But surely, reading a book with your mother hanging over your shoulder, you know, just in case you had any questions about the context, or a need to expand and discuss on the themes presented, would only help someone enjoy it more. There is nothing worse than ambiguity, after all. I made myself available.
So, I asked her once or twenty times, what do you think? She looked at me with one of those looks. I backed off, but noted her progress, and when she neared the end I
begged suggested we read it together. Savour the moment. Surely, this would be her ‘aha’ moment.
We snuggled in bed with the book between us. I bawled openly. She looked at me with a new strangeness. Through my tears I tried to bestow the magic that the book itself failed to reveal. S.E. Hinton couldn’t make her love it, but surely I could.
Yeah, that didn’t work.
It’s a hard lesson for me to learn, but I’m taking ownership. Thou shalt not expect my children to love what I loved as a child, ever again. I do, however, have my very own copies of Jane Eyre and The Catcher in the Rye, underlined in all the poignant places, should she ever want to take them for a spin. #HopeSpringsEternal
Why aren’t you blogging, my friends ask me.
Truth be told, I get tired of my voice sometimes. It rings hollow and whiny in my ear and I can’t bear to expose it to y’all. Go read Slate, your time will be better spent. But lately the urge to write has been spluttering down there amidst my undigested Easter chocolate (did you notice how Reese’s jumped on the bandwagon this year? Pastel wrapped bunnies, eggs, lambs, roosters, Edward from Twilight, you name it they produced it in peanut butter and chocolate. Mmmmmmm). Back to my other urge, the blogging one. It generally appears when people I’m chatting with take the words out of my mouth. They say something – okay, maybe it’s a complaint, whatever – and I say, yes, exactly, a little loudly and over-enthusiastically, causing the other person to back away. Cue the blog post.
Lately, it’s about our spring schedules. That is, our over-scheduled children’s spring schedules and the driving involved.
The problem is that spring has sprung, but no one informed the winter sports. So they are continuing, even accelerating to two or three practices a week, while we are dusting off our field hockey sticks and baseball bats and trying to make our children well-rounded athletes. Not if hockey and soccer have anything to say about it.
The pitfall, of course, is the children will be those two words that every parent fears – left behind – if they don’t carry on with their winter sports, even though it’s spring. So us well-meaning parents, also known as suckers, try to do a little of both, and drive ourselves mad in the process.
It could be worse – I could have sired hockey and baseball players, or had nine kids. I feel for my friends with boys who have schedules much crazier than mine. There is always the just say no option. I took that route before – that lonely, higher ground – and my kids did pay for it. I feel cornered and bullied into enrolling my kids for yet more soccer (a winter sport in Vancouver), while the reasonable voice in my head wants to just play field hockey, perhaps dabble in track and field, or here’s a thought: go for a bike ride with my kids.
Did I warn you that this would not be uplifting? There’s no winner here. If I sound bitter it’s because I am.
I’ve been explaining monsters out of our house for years. To emphasize they’re not there, I get a flashlight and shine it underneath their beds, and always, always, close their closet doors. Tight. After the monsters come the questions about robbers and murderers. How, they ask, do we know we will be safe? Oh babe, we live in a VERY safe community, we have an alarm system, and I wake up when a pin drops.
Don’t worry; you’re safe. It’s my job to keep you safe. Sleep tight.
When I heard the breaking news about a gunman in Connecticut in an elementary school, I did what most people did. I turned off the news, and have been careful not to listen to it since in the company of my children.
Because some monsters can’t be explained, and some crimes are so heinous they can’t be considered.
I know I can’t shelter them forever, someday they will learn about this unfathomable tragedy, but every day that goes by that they are naive to these monsters is another day of innocence, another day of childhood the way it should be, wherein I just need to explain the monsters underneath the bed, and not the ones that walk into elementary schools with semi-automatic weapons.
Meanwhile, I’m piecing together my response for the day they hear of this tragedy, the response that is supposed to alleviate both their fears and mine. The one wherein I explain our country’s laws against handguns, and the resulting lower murder rates, and the distance we are from Connecticut, and so on. The response where I emphasize that this will never happen to them.
Or so I hope.
Because of course it could.
So as I sat in my daughter’s Christmas concert yesterday, the one where she dressed up as a penguin who encounters Santa Clause after his sleigh has crash landed, the only thing I could think about was how lucky I was. The only thing she worried about before going to sleep the previous night was forgetting her lines.
Another day of innocence.
I have three children who happen to be girls.
This brings about the usual quips and remarks as we roll through life. “Your poor husband is outnumbered!” they say, “Must make for great hand-me-downs,” or “Oh, those teenage years will be interesting. Not!” Then occasionally a man – always a man, frequently with white hair and a thin voice – will point out that my husband didn’t get his boy.
Like talking about the weather, these responses are standard fodder, something to say when you have nothing else to say.
It’s required information, the sex of your children, just like the age of your children, and almost immediately follows the number of children you have. It’s part of the fabric of our lives, the questions we endure after announcing our name. It tells something about us, enables strangers to form a picture in their minds of what our lives must be like.
But of course, it tells nothing about us.
While pregnant with my third, with two very obvious girls in toe, I fielded questions fast and furious about the sex of my unborn child. Oh how those people hoped I would have a boy, almost as furtively as I wanted a girl. I have nothing against boys, in fact I love them; I love the different perspectives they bring to situations, whether it is one of calm rationale, or to infuse a situation with energy. Thank god for boys and men. Yet I felt totally ambivalent about the sex of my first child – a baby was a baby, health was my only concern. Once I had my healthy baby, a girl, it seemed easier to have another. And then another. I was completely happy with the score in our family, girls 4, boy 1.
Come on, fine for you, but what about your husband? People scoffed. Once, at a family gathering, I was chastised for not hoping for a boy. They thought it was selfish of me to not want a boy, for my husband’s sake. I found this hilarious, since it was my husband’s prerogative to wish for a boy if he so chose, and what difference did it make in the end? They were entitled to their perspective, but I didn’t like them imposing their thoughts on me. (I may have mentioned this to them.) I know there are people out there who feel your life is not complete unless you have the experience of raising both a boy and a girl, but I’m not one of them.
My children may share the same gender, but otherwise are as different as Barbie and Skipper. In fact, they are more like the children of Phil and Claire on Modern Family, three people thrust together under the same roof with vastly different personalities, entirely separate strengths and weaknesses, who bear little resemblance to each other.
My kids are now 8, 11 and 13. One likes pink, the other anything but pink, and my youngest prefers black, so they have carved out a need for individual wardrobes, laying to rest the hope of hand-me-downs. My oldest has a passion for fashion, my middle a passion for sports, my youngest a passion for debating. Yes, they are all gifted in their passions, which means we spend a lot of time spread out, trying to keep everyone happy, whilst arguing.
Still, I field the questions everyday about the genetic makeup of my children, and endure those occasional clucking sounds when they hear the score. To keep things interesting, I now reply, I have three children, three individuals, who happen to be girls. I think that paints a more accurate picture.
My daughter started high school this September, and we are floundering, groping for a life preserver in harrowing seas, searching for something to hang on to before the next wave pulls us under. Not her, my daughter – oh no, she is having the time of her life – but we, as in my husband and I, and my comrades, grade eight moms with whom I drink wine.
They make it look so easy on Glee, the parents don’t even have a role to play. Which is exactly the point. I wasn’t quite ready to not play a part.
We were excited to start high school, and this time I mean both my daughter and I. Eight years in the same school, ten if you count preschool, and we were ready for a change. Change is good, keeps you young, invigorates your mind, restores sanity ( so I’m hoping). Even though change meant leaving her idyllic and inspiring elementary school, we squared our shoulders and bought a new, sturdier backpack for those heavy textbooks she would be hauling back and forth, and showed up for the first day wearing new, albeit ripped, jeans and a slightly nervous smile.
It turned out to be as shiny as the apple she refused to eat, having discovered pizza bagels in the cafeteria. High school was all that and more: locating her classes and navigating between campuses was challenging and interesting, bigger classes and a much larger school meant more friends, more boys, more teams, more clubs, more everything. All good, all exciting, two thumbs up, four if you count mine. (I personally had a little trouble finding her classes for parent teacher night, so let’s downgrade that to three, but why am I even in the picture?) My daughter was loving high school, is loving high school.
The problem, however, is she outgrew her knee-highs and grew into a social life overnight, while I simply rolled over in my sleep.
In the good old days, like two months ago, she did what we did on the weekend. If that meant trooping to her sister’s soccer game and then visiting friends for dinner, we did it together. But not now. Now there are football games to watch and movies to go to and mass sleepovers to attend and dances and the all-worrisome parties. Our measly social life is in peril, our babysitter is perennially busy. That is sad, seeing as we have only recently rekindled our dormant extracurricular lives; but what is even worse is this feeling that our cozy little bubble, the one that was all-knowing, all-hearing, all-seeing, due to my ability to hover over my daughter and discuss with other parents the innermost thoughts of our children (and occasionally break into her computer when there were discrepancies), this bubble has been burst open to reveal one single bold question mark.
I knew that starting high school would be the beginning of new independence for her, even went so far as to wish for it; I just didn’t expect it to hit so quickly.
So now we are scrambling to find and institute new boundaries. Huddling with other parents to compare notes and gather whatever information we can. Enrolling in social media lectures to help with this affront. I book her weeks in advance for babysitting, and ignore her inevitable eye roll.
And now we hope. Hope that all of those lessons we droned into her made some tiny impact, and that the choices she will make – without us hovering – will be good ones.