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Stay Gold, Ponyboy

April 12, 2013 5 comments

200px-The_Outsiders_book

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.

Outsidersposter

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

Back Off Winter Sports, It’s Spring

April 3, 2013 8 comments

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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.

When Everything They Warn You About Is True

January 24, 2013 6 comments

Breakfast Club

Just wait until they’re teenagers, people would tell me, as I struggled up a flight of stairs with a double stroller and a Baby Bjorn strapped to my chest, at least obscuring my leaky boobs if hurting my lower back. I was too exhausted to reply with a clever quip, but my deadpan stare surely said shut the fuck up.

Without saying they were right, because clearly they were spiteful, I acknowledge there is a certain truth to their words: parenting becomes more difficult, in different ways, when children are older.

The hard labour of diapers and car seats and stalking pediatricians is replaced with a constant doubt: am I doing the right thing?

I used to consult baby books, and whether it was Dr. Spock or What to Expect During the Toddler Years, there was a plethora of information, all with clear answers. But teething issues morph into texting issues, how much is too much? being the new hot topic.

Part of the problem is the world has changed. Technology has made the world I grew up in unrecognizable, and I grapple with new decisions, that have serious repercussions. When I wondered if my daughter should have a cell phone, I worried on both sides; whether she would spend too much time texting, and conversely that she would be left out of the conversation if she didn’t. Same thing with Facebook, Skype, Instagram, etc. I attended a lecture about the dangers of teenagers and social media, the message being use caution and hope for the best.

Okie-dokie, that was helpful. Two hours I won’t get back.

Then there are the age-old problems that I’m facing for the first time as a parent. Reports of drinking, rumours of drugs, whispers of sex; none of which are in our lives yet but are hovering on the  horizon, far too soon. I want my daughter to have fun and enjoy her youth, and yet I quell a desire to lock her in her room every weekend.

With high school came makeup. One morning I noticed a hint of mascara, the next day it was a full-on smoky eye. The first day it was okay, fun! I even thought; the next day I made her take it off. The short shorts. The high heels. The cropped/backless/lace tops. No. No. No. Every morning she wakes, it seems she is a full inch taller and wanting to wear more makeup and less clothing.

As I deliberate the line between right and wrong, there is the attitude to deal with. What to do when your daughter talks to you like you are an imbecile? What is the appropriate comeback to shut up? Timeouts have had their time in the sun; I try to take away her computer, but then she can’t do her homework. Instead I take away her phone, but of course she simply uses her computer to talk to her friends. I try different measures, in the same way I continually try different brands of running shoes: I hope they will fix my injuries, but know they likely won’t.

These are just a few of the issues. Everyday there are more; more limits to set and more boundaries to create, which almost inevitably lead to lengthy discussions and the slamming of doors (sometimes hers, sometimes mine).

Attitude comes with the teenage territory, and the ground that we now tread on is full of potential landmines. I couldn’t see them back when I was pushing that double stroller, but to be fair I couldn’t see to the end of the day in that sleep-deprived state. As my friend explained to me the other day, all she wants to do is what’s best for her daughter. Something simple in theory, much harder in practice.

That could be what those seemingly spiteful people meant to say, all those years ago.

Explaining Monsters

December 20, 2012 2 comments

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.

Ella

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.

Girls 3, Boys 0

October 30, 2012 6 comments

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 girls have as much in common as a devil, a carhop girl, and a bumblebee, in fact.

Dancing in the Dark

October 24, 2012 2 comments

Skipping their way to high school

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.

Enough Said

July 5, 2012 1 comment

I found this in Ella’s room. To be more precise, in her journal; but don’t rat me out. It’s such a sweet window into her head I could not resist.

Words to live by, courtesy of my seven-year old.

Fly, Baby, Fly

June 22, 2012 1 comment

I’m striving for perspective: it’s an elementary school graduation. But still, it’s a milestone. And apparently, it warrants manicures and hairdo’s, and a dress ordered months in advance. If you are thinking that is way over the top, I share your sentiment. When I graduated from elementary school, I spent hours scraping gum off of the bottom of my desk on the last day, and then high-tailed it out of there with scarcely a backwards glance. But the times they are a changing.

Tomorrow, my daughter is graduating from grade seven, and in the fall will start high school. She asked me yesterday if I was going to cry. I hadn’t thought of that, and made a mental note to stuff a few Kleenex into my bag alongside my camera, my lip-chap and stockpile of granola bars.

Truthfully, I haven’t given this graduation much attention. It is hitting us at a busy time, in the middle of moving. By that, I mean I’m weighed down by the boxes I have yet to pack. But that is fairly typical; if it’s not one thing, it’s another. On her first day of kindergarten I was in the hospital, having given birth to her youngest sister the day before.

First day of school, 2004. If it were me, I would have taken off her coat.

So it’s a vaguely familiar feeling, this milestone coming at a slightly inconvenient time. And now, on the verge of the pomp and ceremony of tomorrow, and new tomorrows, I am wrestling with my feelings, which are two-parts joyful, one part excited, and one part trepidatious.

Of course, I’m proud. She is an enthusiastic student with a penchant for fun and fashion. She speaks her mind and has a head for reason when all about her (in particular, yours truly) are losing theirs. She’s solid, independent and kind, mostly. She is growing as fast mentally as she is physically; we are eye-level now, but not for long. I more than love her: I like her.

She was my test-case baby; as my oldest child, I cut my parenting teeth on her. My expectations were sky-high in her early years, and it’s taken a while for them to come down to earth. My other two have reaped the benefit of my more relaxed and realistic parenting approach. But Grace had to weather the storm, not that it’s over. Even now, as the first to go to high school, I will falter and flail alongside her before I get my footing. The next time around it won’t feel so precarious. Such is the state of her existence. I’m sure it has shaped her, somehow.

And yet, despite my own parental shortcomings, I have always had utter and complete confidence in her, perhaps too much at times. Still, with high school approaching, and the terrible rumours that accompany high school life, I’m mostly confident she will make wise decisions, but a tiny part terrified that she will be trapped by the pitfalls that will confront her.

Like a mother bird, nudging her baby out of the nest, I’m holding my breath, hoping that through all of the lectures and diatribes I’ve imparted, somewhere in there is a manual on how to fly.

Tomorrow, our children will graduate in a gymnasium shrouded in Moroccan splendor, thanks to months of preparation from dedicated mothers who want this day to stand apart from the rest of their elementary school days. In the midst of busy lives, we are taking a day to celebrate. To account for their achievements. To wish them the very best of luck from the every fiber of our beings that they will continue on their skyward flight pattern, up and away.

Fly, baby, fly.

It Takes a Village, but the Village has Changed

May 28, 2012 11 comments

Like my daughter’s village, when things get stressful we link arms, and hope for the best.

Most of us don’t live with extended family in our homes like our ancestors of yesterday. Our houses or apartments aren’t bursting with in-laws and grandparents, uncles and aunts are not on the other side of the thin wall. Chaotic family dinners are not a nightly occurrence, but reserved for Thanksgiving and special birthdays.

Although we don’t have to listen to our mother-in-law drone on about her gravy everyday, she isn’t around to make chocolate chip cookies, either. Or to hold our infant when our two-year old falls off the swing. Or to babysit for that far too occasional date-night.

I live on the opposite coast of Canada from my family, and my in-laws are an hour’s drive away. Raising three children, there have been times when I could have used that village, but it wasn’t physically there. The miles were gaping, and I was my own island.

At first, it was lonely. Used to the buzz of an office filled with co-workers, I missed adult interaction. But slowly and steadily, I met other mothers with infants, and we bonded over chitchat of breastfeeding and stain removal. My mom friends advised me where to find the best highchairs and how to soothe my baby to sleep. They taught me how to use sign language before my child could speak, advised which laundry detergent to try when skin rashes arose.

My mom friends walked me through first playdates, and took my toddler to swimming lessons when I had another baby to care for. When I miscarried, they brought dinners and muffins while I sat on the sofa and cried. Sometimes, the only time I would speak with an adult during daylight hours was at the doorstep of my daughters playdates, where we would discuss drop off and pick up times, and then discuss life. Those five minutes made a big difference in my day.

My mom friends have morphed and changed overtime, as children move schools and choose other best friends and different activities. Now, my children are in school and involved in sports. Since it’s hard to be in three places at the same time, my mom friends arrange carpools and cheer on my kids when I can’t be there. They tell me who is doing what on the playground according to the rumour mill. They are the eyes that are watching one of my kids when my own eyes are across town watching another. They have my back.

It still takes a village to raise a child, and my village consists of my husband, myself, and my mom friends. By this point in time, of course, my mom friends have become, simply, my friends. We get together for hikes, family dinners, and sit side by side at assemblies (and soon, graduation). We volunteer in rain, snow, sleet and, less frequently, sunshine. We huddle together and shudder at the thought of high school and the teenage years. We have been known to party.

It’s not always easy being a parent, but my friends make my life both easier, and so much richer. My village doesn’t live underneath one roof, but rather is scattered in different pockets along the North Shore, an extended Block Watch from days past. When my own two arms are not enough to hold what needs holding, I have others outstretched behind me, catching what falls through the cracks. And luckily for me, my village loves to dance.

Here’s to my village; I couldn’t do this without you.

The Premier Asked, and Mom Bloggers Answered Emphatically: Childcare

May 9, 2012 7 comments

When BC Premier Christy Clark invited mom bloggers to a round table discussion about how to make things better for BC families, there was one resounding answer: create affordable and accessible daycare.

As you know, my days of daycare are long since over, thank whatever God you will. Because it was a nightmare, and one I’m not keen to revisit, even in my memories. But for those of you foreign to the issue, here’s a recap.

The statistics were not in my favour; for all of the children in need of daycare in our province, there is space for about 20%. I knew this, going into my first pregnancy. But I was stupidly optimistic. Other people had trouble finding daycare, but surely my little cherubs could scale waiting lists just like they would one day scale mountains on their way to conquering the world. Somehow, I would find an in, and my career would continue to flourish as fast as my body shrunk back to its former size.

Reality, however, proved drastically different than the world I inhabited in my head.

As my maternity leave came to an end, no daycare spots magically appeared, just like the baby weight did not fall from my hips. I remember strapping on my Baby Bjorn and knocking on the door of every licensed daycare in our community, in a futile attempt to make headway. Surely, they couldn’t turn us away in person?

Surely and easily, they did. I looked at licensed at-home daycares, and finally found one I thought would work. My daughter, predictably, screamed like a tyrant everyday I left her before fighting the morning commute. I thought it would abate after a week, but it never did. “You’ll know in your gut,” everyone told me, “if it’s a good situation or not.” Everyday, I felt sick when I said goodbye to her. If I listened to my gut, I would have to quit my job, since there were no other childcare options. (My husband and I were not comfortable with leaving our baby with a nanny, which was the solution for most of our friends.)

Everyday was a struggle. Everyday I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Everyday I evaluated the importance of my career over my daughter’s well-being.

A couple of daycares and a year later, I was ready to go on maternity with my second child. If you think it’s hard finding daycare for one child, it’s almost impossible to find places for two. And at double the cost, economically, it makes less sense. I threw in the towel, gave up my job, and have been out of the work force ever since.

Of course, I’m one of millions of women who have done the same thing, there is nothing special about my situation. However it left an indelible mark where my career once lived. A path unexplored. A giant piece of me taken away, not to mention a livelihood. How many other women feel the same way? Likely, millions.

Christy Clark was brutally honest, if nothing else, about the situation. For starters, BC can’t afford a system of daycare similar to the costly Quebec model, she told us. Quebec has higher provincial taxes and receives transfer payments, which help fund their program. And secondly, it’s hard to convince voters to care about childcare, since it affects people for a small window of time (roughly five years, from birth until age five).

My children are now in school, but this doesn’t mean I am short sighted about the need for a better childcare system in our province. It no longer affects me directly, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want things to improve for other families, and especially other women. Our society and province would only stand to benefit from a strong childcare system that enables women to continue on their career paths.

I may not benefit from a better provincial childcare system in BC, but I have three daughters that are intent on conquering the world, and they just might.

A coalition of child care advocates, who are much smarter than me, have put together a compelling and comprehensive plan for a better childcare system in BC. For details, check out their website at http://www.ecebc.ca.