Monthly Archives: June 2011

Arab Spring/European Summer

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The other day, my son passed by the television and said, “What is that?”  I had the news on.  I sighed and replied, “That’s Athens.”  “Oooh, we’re going to Athens soon aren’t we?”  As I watched protesters lob rocks at the police in riot gear, I cringed.  “Yep.”  My son looked closer at the screen. “Mom, is the Acropolis burning?”

Greece:  riots in the face of financial ruin

London:  today, tens of thousands march in the streets protesting further cuts in public sector pensions

Ireland, Spain & Portugal:  who’s next?

What is happening to our world?

And, if I may be so bold as to ask, why is the world falling apart just when we’ve planned a lovely European vacation?  Mind you, we are not exercising financial responsibility by going on this trip.  We will have to employ austerity measures of our own upon our return.  However, we deemed the sacrifices worthwhile in order to show our kids some history and culture and, it was thought, a good time in Europe.  Now, I’m not so sure.

In spite of my fear of flying, my loathing of large crowds in tight spaces, and my unabashed adoration of large North American bathrooms, I love Europe.  It has always been my intention to live there some day.  I love the depths of its history.  I never tire of looking at old crumbling buildings.  I am very grateful not to have lived in the ancient times (see above adoration of large bathrooms) but I love walking the narrow, twisting streets built back then.  I want to show Europe to my kids.

I don’t want to be ducking rocks, Molotov Cocktails, and have to wear a gas mask while doing it.

We have been dreaming of this trip for years.  My husband has long talked of taking a month off, renting a villa in Italy, and driving all over the southern Med region.  Sadly, no time ever seemed right; there never seemed to be enough money.  Finally, we said, “Screw it!  Let’s go!”   We booked  a 12 day cruise where we could give the kids a taste of a lot of places.  Frankly, that’s all they would want anyway.  Now, languishing in a pool shaded by olive trees in Tuscany might’ve been the way to go.

Oh, there is also the threat of a strike by Air Transat flight attendants.  We might get to Europe; whether we can come back is now in some doubt.  Ordinarily, the prospect of being stranded in Europe would not bother me in the least.  This year, I feel a bit differently.

Come on, Europe!  Hang in there!  Let me bring my tourist Euros to you.  Don’t scare me and the rest of the tourists away this summer!

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Goodbye, Goop

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Gwyneth & I go way back.  Sure we do.  I’ve always liked her, aspired to her seemingly effortless beauty and blondness (always falling short, literally)  She is a talented actress and seems like a nice girl so when Goop came out and she started getting flack for it, I signed up.  I saw no reason for anyone to diss her for branching out and sharing some recipes and such.  Also, I was curious.  Her Thanksgiving turkey recipe looked really good.  What’s wrong with a skinny blond who loves to eat?

In the beginning, when Goop Do, Go, or Get popped into my inbox, I’d read it start to finish.  The recipes were good although some of them were time consuming.  Clearly, Apple and Whats-His-Name don’t play competitive soccer or do taekwondo five nights a week.  But, her writing was good, the places and things she highlighted were interesting if a little outside my world but that’s what made it kind of fun.  It was the “Get” newsletter showcasing her friend’s babywear line that burst my Goop bubble…

Lest anyone think I’m faulting Gwynnie for this, I’m not.  Her world is her world.  Throughout the year she has always championed her friends and has been steadfast in supporting their endeavours; I think that is a lovely quality.  That’s what friends do for each other.  It’s the fact that Gwyneth and her friends live in a different stratosphere from me that’s…well, depressing.

I was in the market for some baby-wear, actually.  My niece had just given birth to the cutest baby on the planet (shout out to Sunny!!)  and I thought the rompers and little dresses highlighted in Goop were adorable…until I saw the prices (they were in Pounds but the conversion from “Oh, that’s so CUTE” to “Holy Frick that’s a lotta of money” was easy enough.)  There were onesies for 125 Pounds.  Oh.  I quietly deleted the newsletter, hating Gwyneth and her well-t0-do skinny Mommy friends, just for a moment.

As the weeks went on, I avoided Goop.  When I did open it, I found it was an invitation to participate in a world I didn’t live in.  I can’t shell out thousands for a diet and exercise program from Tracy although I wish I could because I know that with Tracy’s help, I could be impossibly thin AND fit.   I would love to kick around the south of Spain, drinking organic sangria and exploring the shops but my son needs braces.

So,be gone, Goop.  I need to find fun things to do, get, and see here in my world. If I win the Lottery, I promise I’ll sign up again.  Until then G, good luck with everything.  Love ya.

Flying Banshee, Part I

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Aviation is in my blood…so why am I so scaaaaared?  The answer may lie deep in the mists of time, back to when I was a wee Wee Banshee…

My father was an aviation fanatic. If the Wright brothers and my dad were alive today, the Wright brothers would need a restraining order to keep him from pestering them.  My father was just wee when aviation was in its infancy; he was hooked from the very first air show he watched on the shores of Lake Erie.  He went on to become a consultant for the U.S. Air Force, an editor of Aviation magazine, and a licensed pilot.

His piloting skills, my mother would argue, were dodgy at best. My father had two speeds: off and full throttle.  Mother’s opinion held no sway and as a mere babe, I was strapped into the co-pilot’s seat of my father’s four-seater Mooney.  Mooneys, by the way, are billed on their website as the fastest single-engine aircraft.  Figures.  Like I said, full throttle or nothing for him.  All I knew about the Mooney was that it was deafeningly loud.

In those days, Dad flew out of what is now Dulles International Airport – there was nothing international about it in then – it was a bizarre looking, near-deserted airport out in the middle of a field in Virginia. Still, we had to dodge the odd jetliner. You have a really good idea of how small you are when it’s you in a single prop plane up against the flanks of a Boeing.

Dad’s favourite thing to do on a summer’s night was to go night flying. Night flying, being that it was summer in Washington DC, inevitably turned into thunderstorm dodging.  At the ripe old age of three, I knew this was not a brilliant idea. Although we survived, these nocturnal adventures shaped the beginnings of my true fear of flying later on.  Call it pre traumatic stress disorder.  From a very young age, I questioned those who handed my dad a pilot’s license; who’s to say they were any smarter about the ones they gave to commercial pilots?

When I was a teenager, Dad’s eyesight began to fail; my mother wondered about the life insurance policy every time he took off. Mom accused my father of paying off the doctors who performed the pilot physicals.  Regardless, Dad relied on me more and more for navigation (read: finding the runway and dodging other airplanes mid-air) as time went on.  He stubbornly maintained that he still could do all the hard stuff.  He said, “I’ve never had an accident; not even a near- miss.”

Jinx.

Within the space of a year, he nearly nose-dived into the Atlantic off Kitty Hawk, NC when his plane stalled on approach to the Wright Brothers Memorial Airport (oh the irony of that).  Next, he crash landed into a corn field having severely misjudged the runway.  If not for that last mishap, an aviation mechanic would never have noticed the cracked engine block of the Cessna 180.  Ever frugal, my father opted for a home grown welding job by a local car mechanic.  I think it was around this time I stopped taking flying lessons from my dad.

Older and increasingly fearful, I wondered if all airplane pilots were rash and cheap with poor vision. I mistrusted pilots who wore glasses (white hair was also a non-starter).  I developed what one doctor described as “hysterical air sickness” – a charming combination of projectile vomiting and hysterical sobbing.  Friends and spouses booked seats in other aisles (or on other airplanes). Strangers de-planed with claw marks on their arms and legs; it’s a wonder I wasn’t sued.

As an adult I landed a lovely job that required me to…you guessed it…travel for my job.  The company booked the cheapest flights, the cheapest hotels, and the cheapest rental cars for us, their beloved employees.  We used all of the popular “cut-rate, discount airlines,” until one by one they either crashed themselves out of business or went broke.   I knew instinctively that “cheap” and “cruising  altitude of 33,000 feet” did not mesh.

I readily admit there is nothing like the  feeling of successful flight. I hope never to experience the feeling of unsuccessful flight; it must really suck. I love the soaring feeling; I love the roar of the engines at the beginning of a takeoff – the power building under my feet and then, that slightly unreal feeling of having nothing but air underneath me. I pray, offering all kinds of deals to God if He would just allow me to see my children again.  I dig my nails into whatever or whoever I can.  I don’t look out the window for fear of seeing something essential fall off the plane.

I know how it all works and yet I still don’t know how it all works.  I am terrified, thrilled, awestruck, sick…Eighteen days to Barcelona…maybe I should buy some hockey pads for my husband…

Changing Trains

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Today is a special Monday.  Special or not, it’s still the day that forever catches me by surprise and dishes out something unpleasant for me to deal with (case in point this morning and a puking dog).

Today marks more transitions for the kids.  My daughter graduates from Grade 8 today; my son from Grade 6 tomorrow.  I can more readily appreciate my daughter’s transition from middle schooler to high schooler – she is a totally different being than she was two years ago in both appearance and attitude.  With my son, it’s far more difficult.  He still looks like a little boy to me, albeit a bit ganglier and more angular in the face – all traces of baby fat gone.  He’s having trouble with his voice – is it about to change?  The thought fills me with dread.

When my daughter entered Grade 7, we were new to the city, we were living in temporary housing.  Everything was up in the air.  We, frankly, worried more about our son’s entry into life in Toronto because he was so opposed to the move.  Our daughter was pumped.  An outgoing, gregarious girl, we figured Grade 7 would be just like any other grade once she got into the swing of things and made a few friends.

It’s amazing how wrong we can be sometimes.

While we coaxed and cajoled our son into his new environs, our daughter barrelled full speed into Grade 7.  That’s her style – full throttle all the way.  When she was one, she sat atop the highest toboggan hill in the history of the world in her slipperly little snowsuit, pushed off with her chubby little hands, and was hurtling down on her well padded bottom before anyone could stop her.  I stood helplessly at the top watching as my husband, in clunky snow boots, struggled to catch up to the little human projectile before she broke her neck. The only sound I heard was the sound of my daughter’s voice:  “Weeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!”

Grade 7 was a lot like that day.  We underestimated the scope of change from small city school in Calgary to huge inner city school in Toronto.  It was like going from the little kiddie choo-choo at an amusement park to the bullet train.  It wasn’t until November that we realized how far away from us she was (report card).  She took the inch of freedom given and stretched it to about a hundred miles.  She was having a blast, we were getting gray hairs.  It takes a bullet train a looooooooong time to stop even with someone standing on the brakes.

Grade 8:  different story.  Our daughter understood the effect rash choices had on academics and to some extent, on life.  She’s not all the way there yet but I send her off to Grade 9 feeling more confident in her ability to apply the brakes herself, if need be.  But what of my son?

He is the cautious one.  He doesn’t have his sister’s hell-for-leather personality.  He is introspective and insecure.  At the same time, he is in-your-face-brilliant.   At night when the lights are off and we’re saying our final good nights, he laments the loss of his childhood (at age 11).  “Things were so easy when I was little, Mom.”  Don’t I know it.  What to say?  I try to balance calming his fears with giving him realistic expectations.  Grade 7 with its mind-boggling mix of personalities, sizes, and yes, agendas, is a tough year for all students.   There are boys in Grade 7 who are already shaving, who are 6 feet tall, and seem at a complete loss as to how to handle their new man-sized bodies.   The same can be said for the girls who either dress like they’re in Grade 5 again or go all out looking like Katy Perry.  Some kids will hide until Christmas; some will be looking for a fight on September 7, eager to establish their dominance and territory early.  Where will my son fit in?  Will he fit in? God, please let him fit in.  Let him have a happy year as the last two have been so hard for him.

We are off to Europe in July – the kids will see things, taste things, and experience different things.  The trip will be good for them.  My son is off for a week (flying on his own for the first time) to visit a friend at his cottage on the lovely Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.  He will test for his black belt in early July.  He will be fine.  My daughter…oh my oh my.  She will take Europe by storm and leave a trail of gasping, heart-broken Mediterranean boys in her wake.  She will sleep as much as possible and quite possibly whine incessantly when awake.  That is her God-given right as a teenage girl.  She too will be fine.

Today and tomorrow we will toast our kids for jobs well done.  They are good kids with good report cards and even better hearts and minds.  They are about to change trains again, their parents a little further back on the platform now.

When I Was an (Empty) Beer Bottle

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When I was little, dare I say this, cars didn’t have seat belts.  My kids simply cannot comprehend how this could’ve been true but it was.  When I was an infant (so my mother told me), she placed me on the floor of the car in a Moses Basket.  It explains my aversion to all things woven and wicker.  Once I became mobile, presumably, I just rolled around on the floor of the car like an empty beer bottle.

Every summer, my mother would pack up her Chevrolet Corvair (a car once deemed by Consumer Reports as “unsafe at any speed”) and drive seven hours to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  As we would usually go for a month, the small Corvair was packed to the roof with me wedged somewhere between suitcases or, even better, wedged on the ledge under the rear window on a pillow.  It is no surprise that I developed claustrophobia at quite an early age.

My mother hated driving long distances.  She also hated driving fast; her happiest day was when Jimmy Carter imposed the 55 MPH speed limit – that was about her maximum speed anyway, even on I95.  By the time we reached the causeway onto the Outer Banks, my mother was practically drooling in anticipation of a pitcher of mostly vodka.  Upon arrival, once her fingers were pried from the wheel, the car sat untouched except for brief jaunts down the coast road for souvenir buying or to chase down the fresh produce truck.  As soon as I could reach the pedals, I was the one giving chase.

Once I became old enough (maybe eight) to sit in the front seat (still sans seatbelts), my claustrophobia vanished.  I loved road trips.  I always encouraged my mother to go faster.  I assured her that if she went faster, she could be out of the car sooner.  It never worked.  She would drift into the middle lane, determined look on her face, and stay there.  Exiting the highway was always a period of high stress.  If she missed the exit, we’d end up in Florida.  On the quieter roads approaching the coast, she relaxed a bit.  Near the ocean, I would stick my head out the window like a dog, hair flying.  There was nothing better.

My father only came down on weekends, by plane.  My mother wanted him nowhere near the driver’s seat of her car because he went far too fast.  We only let him drive us down once.  It was an unqualified disaster.  We blew tires, encountered torrential rains where frogs and swamp flooded the roads; we skidded off the road and nearly into the a swamp more than once.  This trip was made in a 1970 Plymouth station wagon.  There might have been seat belts.  Upon arrival, both parents went for straight vodka.

On the plus side, even with the swampy roads, we made the trip in under six hours.  I was impressed.  It became my dream to break my father’s land speed record to the beach.  When I was sixteen, I begged my mother to let me do the driving.  My speed machine?  A 1976 Audi Fox.  I think it had 3 cylinders – well, 3 that worked anyway.  And still, with only 3 cylinders I made it in 5 hours and 45 minutes.  My mother, safely belted into the passenger seat, drank her martinis out of a thermos.  It was a good trip.  Sadly, it was our last to that part of the world as my father passed away the following year.

My kids can’t picture me as a little girl even though I’ve shown them pictures of me on that beach in Nags Head, NC.  I’ve shown them pictures of my mother, her blond hair flying in the wind, standing on the edge of the ocean with my hand in hers.  I’ve even shown them pictures of the car parked in front of the cottage.  “That was the one with no seat belts,” I said.  They looked up at me, disbelieving.  How could that be? they ask, wide-eyed.  It just was.

Summertime

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I read a blog yesterday by Sunflower Girl (“Drop and Give Me Twenty”, Freshly Pressed); she sounded stressed and grumpy – she’s at home for the summer in command of four boys who are waging war with each other from the sounds of it.  She says her husband is sometimes considered the fifth boy (I totally get that).  Her post was hilarious and brutally honest.  Yep, there are times when my two kidlets (3 if you count their father) drive me to the point where I want to put them on a chain gang.  Someone responded to her post telling her to get some parenting skills and stop using school as a babysitter.  Really?  I mean, really?

That gentleman simply cannot have children.  He cannot.  And, if he does, are they programmed little automatons?  Stepford Kids?  Is he Captain von Trapp, with a dog whistle?  In spite of what previous posts say about my parenting skills, my husband and I are responsible, caring, dedicated parents who want nothing but the best for our children.  And still, the  little urchins freakin’ misbehave.  All the time.  They talk back, they fight with each other, they leave trails of food from one end of the house to the other as if they were Hansel and Gretel.  They leave lights on, use all the hot water and refuse to stop drinking milk right out of the carton.   I yell and yell and yell.  I swear, sometimes in two languages.  And yes, they’ve been hearing me swear since…since…well, in utero.  Doesn’t everybody swear when they drive?  I call them ill-mannered monkey-faced weasels and worse.  I have, perhaps more than once, threatened to a) sell them on EBay b) send them to military school c)sell them to a military school advertised on EBay.

I would venture to say that even the saintliest of parents look upon the arrival of summer with some trepidation – unless they’re rich enough to pull their little darlings from private school and then put them on a private jet to Swiss yodeling camp for 8 weeks or so.  Summer is camp time, to be sure but which camp?  At what cost?  Day camp or away camp?  If camp is not an option, what then?  Summer equals free time which equals trouble.  Well, sometimes.  We want our kids to get fresh air, exercise, and also some much needed down time.  But, not too much.  If my 11 year old had his way, he’d stay in the basement all summer playing video games, never to see the light of a summer’s day.

I will banish my kids from the house as much as I can – to the pool!  To the beach!  To the library!  (Ok, a mom can dream, can she not?)  What I don’t want them doing is just loitering at the mall or in the park.  That’s when I start to get a little nervous.  I will spend a good portion of my time and energy this summer keeping them occupied and out of trouble.  I won’t be alone in this pursuit.

So what parent doesn’t breathe a sigh of relief as Labour Day rolls around?  I cannot imagine.  At school, you know where they are (presumably).  They are relatively safe (one dearly hopes).  They are learning (again, one dearly hopes).  When my son asked last year if he could be home schooled it was everything I could do not to head for the liquor cabinet right then and there.

If Sunflower Girl wants to approach summer as a boot camp for her kids, I cannot judge her.  If I could get my kids to just do their year-round chores without a fuss, I’d feel ahead of the game.  Sure, I want my kids to have a happy summer.  I just don’t want too many gray hairs as a result.

You Have Been Judged…

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My eldest plays competitive soccer; she is passionate about the game.  Soccer is definitely a contact sport so the use of protective equipment is essential.  Shin guards, strapped on under heavy socks, provide protection from unwanted cleat designs being permanently imprinted on legs and nasty bruising.  Unfortunately, shin guards tend to harbour some equally nasty bacteria when they get sweaty and because of the number of times a week they’re used, they don’t always get cleaned in a timely manner.

When my daughter started getting a rash on her shins, I (correctly) assumed it was from the shinguards.  But because I’m a shiftless, neglectful parent who spends more tme writing her blog than inspecting her daughter’s shins, I somehow missed that the rash had gone from bad to worse to something that resembled The Black Death or the Pox from medieval days.  My daughter came home from practice night before last with an edict from her coach:  Seek Medical Attention for Your Daughter ASAP.

The coach’s word is law around here so we took ourselves to our favourite clinic yesterday morning.  The doctor on call, a petite woman about my age, sat us down and asked what the issue was.  I removed the bandages from my daughter’s ankles.  I looked up and there it was.

Judgment Face.

This stern bespectacled doc was giving me the face that  said:  You are an irresponsible neglectful parent of the highest order.  Your daughter has been suffering for months and this is the first time you’ve sought medical attention – now that there are bleeding, oozing, weeping, open sores on her legs.  You should be hung from the highest tree with a placard hung around your worthless neck saying “TRULY AWFUL MOMMY”

That’s what her face said.  What her mouth said (to my 13 yr old) was:  “This is bad.  This is very, very bad.  This could be the end of your soccer career.”  The doctor wouldn’t even look at me and in fact, did not address me the rest of the visit.  Clearly, this poor child in front of her would have to fend for herself as best she could because the incompetent old bag who claimed to be her mother wasn’t capable of understanding or following basic instructions.

My daughter is a tough one  Very resilient.  Very common sense.  Very “Ok, what’s next?”  She took the doctor’s prescription sheet, hopped off the table and said, “Hey Mom, can we go to Starbucks now?”  My stomach was somewhere near my feet; it was all I could do to drag myself off the chair and follow her out the door of the clinic, my Mommy tail between my legs.  I tearily apologized to my girl for the next 6 blocks as we walked to Starbucks.  If she had asked me to throw myself under the 502 streetcar at that moment, I would have.  I begged her forgiveness until she said, “Mom, if you don’t shut up, I’m gonna hurt you. Everything will be fine.  God, I’m hungry – can I get a bagel too?”

God bless her, nothing gets her down.  I realized in the doctor’s office that I am not resilient, not fearless, and apparently not competent. I wanted to run to my son’s school and inspect him for what might be wrong with him that I hadn’t noticed.

On the subway ride home, I played future interviews in my head.  They went something like this:

“So, Daugher-of-WeeBanshee, there you were, a promising pro soccer career in your future – and then in the doctor’s office, you watched it all slip away.  How did that make you feel?”

“Well, I wanted to throw my Mom under the 502 streetcar but I thought I’d get her to buy me a caramel frappucino first…”

“Good decision.  So now that your soccer career is over before it began due to some pretty poor parenting, what lies in store for you?”

“Well, I’m still in therapy dealing with the stunning, heart-wrenching loss of my greatest love:  playing soccer.  I guess I’ll just lie around drinking high-calorie coffee beverages and settle down to a life of mediocrity…thanks to my mother.”

After sleeping in a hair shirt last night, I awoke this morning with a clearer head…sort of.  I reckon I’m like every other parent out there:  harried, hurried, exhausted and doing the best I can.  I’m not a lax parent – ask my kids – I’m the Mean One (my husband is the Fun One).  I nag and question and  don’t inspect them for oozing rashes enough…My daughter will heal; she and I will make damn sure of that as will her Dad and coach.  Before she drifted off to sleep last night, she patted my head.  ” ‘S ok Mama.  I’ll be fine.”

Yes she will but it’s gonna take her Mama some time to forget Judgment Face.