Archive for February, 2011

Parenting: Democracy or Dictatorship?

February 16, 2011 6 comments

I know some really good parents, and I know some really bad parents. I’m not naming names; you know who you are.

Or maybe you don’t. Maybe, like Amy Chua, you think forcing your child to practice the piano for hours each day is your idea of a loving relationship. You’re thinking, they’ll thank me in the long run.  Forcing them to bring home A’s, even bribing them into doing so, is your idea of caring.  Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reads more like an exercise in child abuse rather than a useful parenting tool.

There has been a huge backlash since Chua’s parenting memoir was released in January. For a truly chilling account of her parenting style, click on this article by Chua which appeared in the Wall Street Journal, which details why she would never let her child go on a play date, receive a grade less than an A, or let them play any instrument other than the piano or the violin. It is all shocking, but she attributes these methods to the reason Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful children.

It would be easy to attack someone who mandates their children practice their instrument for three hours a day (the first hour is the easy part, Chua says, it’s hours two and three that get difficult). Rather than climb aboard the growing anti-Chua train that is snaking its way across North America, I thought I’d write about an entirely opposite parenting movement that is gaining popularity in my neighborhood that embraces a much gentler and respectful style.

A growing group of parents I know actually go to a parenting group. They meet on a monthly basis and discuss their issues with the help of a counselor.

Many of these people start their sentences with, “Jim Skinner says…”, Jim Skinner being their therapist/guru/demi-god. Skinner uses the Adler approach to parenting, which emphasizes the freedom to be creative while making decisions within a respectful and responsible family structure. My interest piqued by all this Skinner-disciple talk, I decided to check him out when he lectured at our school.

Almost everything he touched on made intuitive sense to me, and seemed to take into account both the wishes of the parent and the child. Here are some of the highlights from the one lecture I attended:

  • Parenting with a hands joined in a democratic arrangement is by far the most successful of parenting styles, judging from his twenty years of helping families. Military style parents: throw your whips out with the garbage. To summarize, in a democratic house, when misbehavior occurs, you and your child come up with consequences together. This gives the child a voice and some control over the situation, rather than being rendered a helpless deer caught in the headlights, awaiting the blow of whatever punishment the parent deems worthy.
  • Pampering and spoiling children does them a disservice; this includes overindulging, being over permissive, over dominating, and being over protective.
  • The best parenting style is one that fosters and develops a child’s self-esteem through encouragement.
  • Think of successful sports teams: they are co-operative, and work together as a team to produce great results, as opposed to a team with a few individual stars on its roster. A family should also be set up in a co-operative way; minimize competition, maximize working together to achieve goals.
  • People don’t change, they simply become more or less of who they are from the beginning. It is the role of the parent to help invent a child’s future by determining their unique strengths.
  • Help children learn from their mistakes, rather than simply chastising them.

If this parenting style catches your fancy more than Chua’s, ignore her controversial book and instead pick up Honey I Wrecked the Kids, by Alyson Schafer. Your children will thank you, and Child Services won’t come knocking.

Pragmatic Romantics: Boycott Valentine’s Day Flowers

February 14, 2011 10 comments

As the rain pelted sideways on the weekend, I stooped to throw a bouquet of roses into my grocery cart. An attempt to cheer up our joint on the darkest of winter days, add a little sunshine into the mix, mask the stale aroma of February. But I was horrified when I noticed the normal $14.99 price tag had been jacked up to $29.99, courtesy of my least favorite Hallmark-induced holiday, Valentine’s Day.

I was prepared to leave this one alone this week, to let bloggers and columnists wage their own wars with cupid, falling either in the pro or con category. If I were to predictably fall into the con category, you might think I am a washed up cynic, jaded by fifteen years of marriage, any romantic spark long since replaced by everyday realities.

And you would be right.

Suckers only need apply

My image on the line, I’m still prepared to go down this route to exploit the flower industry as the crooks that they are. Forget Hallmark, who at the very least can’t double the printed cost of their red and pink cards as February 14 rolls closer, the florists of this world are the biggest benefactors of this artificial holiday. I’m disgusted with the injustice of jacking up their cost of arrangements to double their normal price tag.

The last thing I have ever wanted for Valentine’s Day is flowers (honey, are you reading this?). I have long been a proponent of the “give me flowers any other day of the year instead, when they are half the cost” club. I cannot relate to all of those tweets and stories I’m reading about women who just want flowers for Valentine’s Day – “would that kill him”? What is romantic about receiving flowers on the day some marketer has deemed it romantic to receive flowers? Our collective lack of imagination has too many people resorting to being sheep, with the florists of the world being the lucky benefactors.

I would rather receive a new water bottle.

At least most retailers worth their salt have wizened up and offer pre-Christmas sales, so we don’t feel we are complete victims to the cause. If you are one of those smug people that goes around toting flowers at double the cost on Valentine’s Day, you may as well have “sucker” tattooed on your forehead, or  “kick me” attached to your behind.

Contrary to how this sounds, I actually am romantic, but also pragmatic. Read me a poem on Valentine’s Day, instead. I promise I won’t laugh.

Spelling Duals From the 49th Parallel

February 9, 2011 8 comments
P writing blue

Image via Wikipedia

I am of two minds.

I’m not talking about my wild mood swings at monthly intervals, I’m talking about spelling.

Brought up and educated in Canada, I have learned to spell using British English as opposed to American English. British English generally houses a couple of extra letters, for example it’s colour not color, and analogue not analog. If in doubt, throw in a rogue “u” to make it Canadian. I write with candour, and clamour to make chilli for dinner (this is the British English spelling for chilli – doesn’t it look better to you?); whereas if I was born south of the border I would write with candor, and clamor to make chili.

You Americans are more to the point, more phonetically accurate.

In Canada, true to our bilingual mandate, we ask for the cheque in restaurants, not the check. We measure in litres,not liters, but don’t get me talking about our weather inconsistencies – for the love of god, is 75 degrees Fahrenheit shorts weather or not? You must agree the Celsius scale, which uses zero degrees as the freezing point, makes more sense.

Canada wins on the weather front, America on the spelling, where brevity is concerned.

Of course in this new marvellous (as opposed to marvelous) world where spell check conveniently underlines every word we misspell, getting it right takes on a new lustre, lest your document be egregiously underlined and marked up like a SoCal woman undergoing plastic surgery. It’s hard to press send or publish with red lines all over your page, which happens if the spellcheck program happens to be of a different nationality than yourself. This causes me no end of grief.

If anyone is a mixed bag it is I: I read roughly half American publications, half Canadian, and have a weakness for British classics and The Economist magazine. I’m bombarded by glaring spelling differences on a daily basis. Who to honour? My British heritage or geographic neighbour? Ignore all of those red slashes on my screen, or give in to the spelling my computer wants? Who wears the pants, the pajamas or the pyjamas?

We Canadians are clearly caught in the middle, victims of circumstance, fed by the leviathan of American marketing, yet still hearing echoes of the British English that we were taught. Not a stickler for details, I tend to be ambidextrous on the point, switching from one usage to the other depending on the word – I actually prefer skeptic to sceptic, for instance.

It seems congruent with our easy going nature that when it comes to spelling, Canadians can swing both ways. I hereby exempt myself from labouring the point any further, red lines be damned.

You’ve Come A Long Way (in Football), Baby

February 8, 2011 2 comments
Women's Football Alliance

Image via Wikipedia

During the Super Bowl, my daughter asked me why girls can’t play football.

I put down my beer and formulated my answer carefully, sensing this was a moment to rise to the occasion rather than shoo her away. I dusted off my Second Wave Feminist self and told my child to make herself comfortable, this could take awhile.

For starters, you are looking at a girl who played in a women’s touch football league, I told her. It was two-hand touch, no cumbersome gear or helmets required, more befitting our casual commitment to a some fun and exercise a few hours a week. We were fearless, running patterns and breaking nails. So let’s begin today’s lecture by taking the “can’t” out of that question.

Women can play football, they just can’t be paid to play football. Or so I thought.

I was ready to begin my diatribe on how it has been largely a man’s world for approximately 2000 years when thoughts of “A League of Their Own” flashed through my head – one of my favorite movies of all time despite the fact I hate baseball, a testament to its powerful message rather than exhilarating action. Surely the women in football omission has been addressed by this time in our evolution. I put my diatribe on hold and consulted the internet.

My indispensable friend Google tells me there is indeed a professional women’s football league in the United States. The Women’s Football Alliance is a full-contact American football league comprised of 62 teams across the United States and Mexico. The WFA is the largest and fastest growing league in America, it tells me on its website.

I doubt many New Yorkers have heard of the New York Sharks, despite the fact this woman’s football team has existed for a decade (tryouts were last weekend – no previous football experience necessary). I’m sure its team members will never experience the superhero status of the NFL’s players, although hopefully they more law-abiding than their male counterparts. But the very fact this league exists  – and I didn’t have to tell my daughter women can’t play professional football – makes me weep with gratitude for its unsung heroes.

The phrase “you can do anything you set your mind to” rolls off the tongue so much better.

At halftime they replayed an earlier scene where ten-year-old Ava Childs handed the game ball to an official. Ava won this honor by entering an essay contest. Her dream is to be the first female kicker in the NFL. Obviously, Ava already had this conversation with her parents, whose answer must have been a mixture of “never say never” and “dream big”.

Whether or not you want your daughter to become a professional athlete, it’s heartening to know the possibilities are as limitless as our imaginations. You go, girl.

Ava Childs was chosen to deliver game ball at Super Bowl

Eavesdropping on Suburbia

February 4, 2011 8 comments

I can hear you...

One of the many things I like about traveling, besides the obvious being transported to warmer climates, is observing people in airports.

To the untrained eye, it might appear that I am absorbed in my book, but really my bionic ears are listening to every conversation within a stone’s throw, and I’m watching every movement out of the corner of my beady eye.

And if you sit down beside me and have a conversation on your cell phone, it is not a private discussion: I am hanging on your every word.

A man sat down beside me at the airport last week and we had a lovely chat with his wife on his mobile. It was so stereotypical I could easily decipher – probably verbatim – what her responses were, despite not being on speakerphone (really, how rude!).

We talked about the Vancouver weather – balmy compared to where they resided (Chicago? Denver?). We all agreed traveling is extremely tiring, and the food sucks. We discussed his daughter’s basketball game, and whether or not her play stood out from the rest of the team’s, and how that Ashley girl is overrated. We talked about his wife’s paycheck, and how it was so small it didn’t cover the cost of her work wardrobe, and although we all chuckled, she was secretly annoyed that he keeps bringing this up. We segued into his wife’s friend for a bit – trouble on the horizon in her marriage, what are you going to do? And then, finally, could she pick up his dry cleaning and kiss the girls for him? He loves her and will see her tomorrow night.

Two things came to mind as he snapped his phone shut: are we all so predictable? And secondly, what will his wife serve for dinner tonight?

The Oscar Goes to… Any Movie Viewed On An Airplane

February 3, 2011 4 comments

Whether it’s the high altitude messing with my oxygen flow, or the need to engage my mind to stop it from dwelling on being hurled through the air in a tub of steel, my entertainment receptors switch to their simplest form of engagement on airplanes. I suspect All About Steve could have passed as acceptably funny if I’d seen it on a plane. In a movie theater, it just fell into the “creepy’ category.

Am I alone, or are funny movies hilarious when viewed from great heights? And do you weep with anguish and sympathy more than usual during sad movies on airplanes? Could flying actually force your body into a temporary menopausal state? Why is the entertainment bar so freakishly low when suspended mid-air?

Last weekend I was on a three hour United flight which didn’t offer a movie. I wanted to disembark after take-off, but then an episode of 30 Rock came on, which is funny at the best of times, but at 30,000 feet its hilarity could barely be borne. It was an episode from season five called “The Fabian Strategy”, in which Matt Damon guest stars as Liz’s boyfriend. Every line delivered was yet another knee slapping situation, with no commercials to let you breathe. My seatmate, trying to sleep, was not impressed, prompting me to think they should divide passengers into laughers and sleepers for higher levels of customer satisfaction.

On the return flight, Air Canada actually put me on a decent plane, so I had a wide array of movies to choose from on my personal screen. (Traveling days when you hoped for a good movie seat are so yesterday!) I watched The Social Network, and was captivated by both the storyline and the concept of having Facebook during my university years, and the unimaginable dramas that it would have caused.

I now realize my movie reviewing abilities are askew at high altitudes, since ranting and raving about Twilight to anyone who would listen after watching it on an overnight flight (along with Revolutionary Road and Australia, LOVED all three – coincidence?). Sharing elbow space with teenagers in all Twilight sequels since, I’ve noticed these movies don’t hold the same appeal with the voting-age crowd. (Incidentally, only ten months to go until the Breaking Dawn Part 1 release.)

Was it just another high-on-altitude situation, or was The Social Network an incredibly great ride? I’m not sure I trust my own judgment.

Arcade Fire and U2 On One Ticket? I’m There.

February 1, 2011 8 comments

No Line on the Horizon - MY photo!

Cross the experienced, masterly and dynamic band members of U2 with the vibrant, artistic energy of Arcade Fire and what kind of uber group would result? Surely one that would fly off into the stratosphere unheeded, the earth couldn’t contain such talent. These are the useful reveries that fill my mind as I clean the lint out of the dryer. That, coupled with: who’s my favorite group of all time? Quick! Pick one: Arcade Fire or U2?

In an incredible twist of fate that rarely graces my life, these bands that rival for my mind’s vote are playing on the same ticket this summer in my favorite part of Canada, the Maritimes. Is it naive to think Bono and Win Butler are conspiring to send me a message to get my behind back to the provinces where Tim Horton’s rules supreme, by the bye? I knew 2011 would be a great year.

All of my ex-boyfriends were U2 fans, their single common denominator, which is another way of saying this musical dynasty appeals to a wide array of people. I love their music, their story (together since they were sixteen), and their Irish accents. Not in that order. And Arcade Fire is a youthful version of U2: destined for all the greatness they deserve. With The Suburbs (2010) nominated for five Juno’s today, and a scheduled performance on the Grammy’s this month, they are no longer Montreal’s best kept secret.

Growing up, the closest I got to U2 was the same as most low-life teenagers with no connections and even less money – through cassette tapes, often made by my friends. I was continually rewinding those ribbons back into place that my cheap music player insisted in eating for dinner. But even my poor quality machine couldn’t mask the endearing quality of music that blasted through my room every night, to the consternation of my parents.

The Unforgettable Fire (1984) was my first taste of legitimate U2 ownership, although cooler kids were already well versed with the band from Boy (1980), October (1981), and War (1983). But my love affair was at that point young, a fire yet to be stoked. It has grown solidly over the years, each release cementing their immortal status in my admittedly weak musical mind (my collection includes The Backstreet Boys and Enrique Iglesias, perhaps more due to their smoldering looks than amazing sound). My infatuation with U2 barely skipped a beat with the wayward Pop (1997) and then Zooropa (1993) –  I understood the band’s desire for experimentation, and forgave them for straying from their distinctive sound, unlike many fans.

Our relationship went to the next level with my first U2 concert, during the How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb tour, in 2004. I couldn’t constrain myself, “like a teenager at a Beatles concert” was how my friend described my antics. Shockingly, we’re still friends, although we didn’t go to their next concert together. A shame, since I was cool as a cat during their No Line on the Horizon tour in 2009. Really, I’ve come a long way: I didn’t break anyone’s foot by jumping on it, nor did I pee my pants.

I'm pretty sure Bono was looking right at me, don't you think?

As usual late to the party, I only started listening to Arcade Fire in the last year, but was eating up Funeral (2004) and Neon Bible (2007) when along came The Suburbs (2010). I’m not sure how it is an Indie band from Montreal can know and sum up all that is wrong about the world in one offering, but somehow Arcade Fire accomplishes this with their most recent album.

I went to The Suburbs concert in Vancouver, and not even my nosebleed seats in the Coliseum could dampen the electricity in the air, as multi-talented band members bounced from guitar to piano to drums, as though they were changing their sweaters rather than instruments. Their energy combined with sheer talent (band members are involved with other musical projects, including composing an orchestra using each musician’s heartbeat for their tempo, incredibly) was mesmerizing; we the audience hung on every chord, knowing we were witnesses to a unique and rare talent.

Arcade Fire

I will need to summon every ounce of restraint possible if I am to endure this unprecedented coupling in Moncton on July 30. Restraint, dancing shoes and Depends.

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