Tag Archives: life with kids

Getting It


I have long watched herds of teens roaming the neighbourhoods we’ve lived in and wondered, “Where are their parents?”  “Did her mother SEE what she left the house in this morning?” “How could that boy be allowed to walk out with no coat?”  I would then make clucking noises and shake my head.

Oh, how far the smug have fallen…

Fear not, I am still shaking my head and making odd noises that no one pays any mind to.  However, this happens as I stand at my own front door (slightly hidden on purpose behind the doorway so my teenage son doesn’t see me watching) as my boy walks off our property wearing nothing but a t-shirt and torn jeans.  Beneath my feet, the furnace thrums away in our basement.

Because its bloody cold outside.

I get it now.

Herds of teens roam the chilly streets of Toronto inappropriately dressed not because they’re parentless urchins but because that is how they like it. No, let me re-phrase that:  that is how they demand it.

As I stood impotently in the foyer holding out a hoodie, my son barked at me in his ever-deepening voice, “I’m FINE!”  Which means, “Mom, if you come one step closer to me with that thing I will burn it with the lasers that will shoot out of my eyeballs, I’ll incinerate you and the hoodie right there.”

My daughter, God love her, has only this year seemed to show more common sense but with girls it’s different.  Coats, jackets, even puffy parkas, can be a fashion statement – as can warm winter boots.  Boys – a species I have lived 50 years not understanding and will probably go to my grave no wiser about – are different.  Boys have to show that they’re tough or cool or at the very least, that they can survive their own stupidity.

I think.

So, as I watch the skinny figure of my boy walk into the morning sun (thank God for that at least), I shake my head and wander off to find my fleece-lined slippers.  At the top of the stairs I look into his room, a den of computer cords, phone chargers, headphones and an unmade bed.  I walk down the hall sounding like a discontented barnyard hen.  Cluck, cluck.

Getting it doesn’t make me any happier.




Staying Put


Washington DC – Atlanta – Chicago – Calgary – Toronto – ? – ?

This is the map of my life thus far.  To me, it seems kind of boring – especially considering my husband’s roadmap.  But to some of our friends, we’re freaks.  For our vacation this summer, we’re visiting some of the places and people we’ve left behind.

Mind you, those people will not want to be called “those left behind” because that implies that they’re stuck or stagnant or stubborn or scared or…settled.

I will be packing plenty of gauze and Band-Aids – the tongue-biting will be epic as these “more stable” friends ask their age-old questions:

“Why do you move so much?

“Wouldn’t you rather just stay put?”

“Why do you insist on raising your kids in a big/dirty/dangerous/busy/foreign city?”

“Why do you live in Canada?”

Just for fun, I’m thinking of starting a rumour that we’re moving to somewhere really bizarre, even for us.  Like, Uzbekistan.

I can practically hear the howls and screeches now…ok, no.  I’ll behave.  Maybe.

Four of five Atlanta friends said they’d be gone after the 1996 Olympics were over.  Their roots are so deep now you’d think they were born and bred there.  Our Atlanta years were the years we “grew up”: got married, bought our first house, had kids.  To hear some tell it, once you have kids you have to settle down, put down roots.

My youngest was five months old when we moved to Chicago.  One whole box shipped (and lost, somewhere in Texas) when we moved to Calgary was full of Costco diapers. Kids are portable to a certain age.  Once they’re in school, moving gets harder on them.  That is why we’re stuck settled in Toronto  for the time-being.  Moving again – especially to Europe – while the kids are in high school would just be too cruel.

I’ve never understood that philosophy of settling down (geographically, anyway). I practically break out in hives at the mention.  I have friends in a certain city who don’t travel outside their zip code.  Upon hearing that we were staying in a hotel downtown, they told me “we don’t go downtown.  Ever.”  I have trouble keeping my furniture arranged the same way two weeks in a row.

Other friends have traveled abroad for business or pleasure only to scurry home bemoaning the fact that everywhere they went was so different.  Isn’t that the point? This time last year, I was sobbing as we left Barcelona.  If I’d had enough Euros, I’d have snapped up a flat in the Barri Gotic right then.

My wanderlust is evident in my writing.  For whatever reason I have a very hard time writing about where I am.  None of my stories are set in Toronto even though I live here.  My writing goes where I want to go.  This makes the travel itch even worse.  I would gladly fly away in the name of research.

I think of myself as forward-looking (as opposed to “unstable”).  I do not shed tears over places left behind.  I don’t think I’ve ever said “Let’s go back there to live!”  I reminisce about certain things of course – favourite parks, restaurants, and people.  Then I close my eyes and think of where to go next.  I want to be the eccentric old dame with “no fixed address,” hopping from Continent to Continent on a moment’s whim.

I do not blame my children for hiding the suitcases from me.  Not one bit.

Toronto the Good


As I consider the online options for bullet-proof windows in my home, I wonder about Toronto’s nickname, “Toronto the Good.”  Lately, my adopted city has been anything but good as the gun violence escalates into an all-out war with innocent Torontonians caught, quite literally, in the cross-fire.

I have always gravitated towards big cities.  I was born in DC (which by today’s standards is not very big at all), have spent oodles of time in Manhattan and surrounding boroughs, lived in Chicago and Atlanta.  A big city and its attendant woes is not new to me.

My hometown once held the dubious honour of “Murder Capital of the U.S.  In my early twenties, I was adept at discerning a car’s backfire from semi-automatic gun fire.  I drove through even the best neighbourhoods with the car doors locked, always vigilant for a bump n jack as some carjackings were called then.  On more than one occasion, I woke with an acrid burning in my throat caused by tear gas.

Once, when driving to Westchester County  New York, I was forced to detour via the Cross-Bronx Expressway only to be detoured again because there was a sniper on the loose.  I pulled the fastest U-turn ever that day.  I drove back into the city  under the dashboard of my mother’s Oldsmobile.  I once surprised a thief inside my car in an underground parking garage.  Not fun.

In spite of all the violence and risk, I’ve never wanted to be a suburbanite. I would choose an absolutely rural location before I would ever again live in the ‘burbs – my husband and I have always lived in the inner city by choice. This  decision divided us from quite a few of our friends early in our marriage.  To this day, only a handful of our friends live inside city limits and some have barricaded themselves inside gated communities – the modern version of a fortified city with walls and a moat full of piranhas.  That is their choice.

Our commutes are shorter and our kids are getting exposure to all walks of life – good and bad – which they will have to know how to deal with when they grow up anyway (unless they move to Australia’s outback or somewhere else equally remote).  My kids can navigate any big city, they can read any subway map (except the ones in Athens).  They have adeptly navigated Barcelona, Rome, and London.

My kids love the city.  They love the vibe, the crowds, the restaurants.  Recently, Toronto’s deputy mayor slammed all parents who want to raise their kids in the city as opposed to the suburbs.  He cited a particular intersection:  King & John Streets.  Ironically, we had the kids down there on Friday night to meet up with their cousin.  We had the BEST time!  The streets were filled with cars, the sidewalks and restaurant patios were jammed, the theatre district is right around the corner – the city was alive.  At 10 pm when we left the restaurant, our nephew’s girlfriend commented on the masses of people on the sidewalks – yes, that’s downtown life.  That’s how it should be.  Full of people, full of life and noise and streetcars rumbling by.

Of course I am freaked out concerned about Toronto’s recent violence.  It also concerns me that our Mayor’s only solution is an antiquated “run the gangs out-of-town” stance.  Seriously?  Where are they going to go?  Violence, especially gang violence, has deep causes requiring innovative thought  – something our current city government is not capable of.  That scares me more than anything.

In the meantime, my kids will still go out and play in the streets (ok, not literally).  We will take as many reasonable precautions as we can  But, we’re not going to hide in our bunkers or help the mayor build an island in the middle of Lake Ontario for all the gangs.  We will not be fleeing to the suburbs – where, ironically, the worst of the violence occurred.

By the way, “Toronto the Good” was just one Victorian mayor’s wishful thinking.  He had high hopes of changing  Toronto’s reputation as a pit of drunken squalor by giving it a “moral” nickname.  Today, when it is used, the tongue must be firmly planted against one’s cheek.

Toronto, I love you.  You just need a mayor with a brain and a posse of innovative thinkers, not gunslingers.

The Heroism of Growing Up


When my daughter was very, very small – so small, in fact, I did not realize she could speak in full sentences – she laid upon me some words of wisdom that I’ve never forgotten.  Strapped into her car seat, her chubby face streaked with juice, she said, “Mommy, life is hard.  And a little bit tricky.”

Today a bronze statue was unveiled in London’s Trafalgar Square as part of something called The Fourth Plinth Project Series.  It is a simple thing – not glorious or imposing like the lions – a boy on a rocking horse.  The minute I saw it, tears filled my eyes.  It reminded me of the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens.  Captured very simply but very powerfully was the innocence of youth.

The article describing the statue, the artists, and the series said the statue “acknowledges the heroism of growing up.”  Growing up is hard.  I watch my children struggle with it daily; hell, I am struggling with it still at the half century mark.  Today’s children are faced with so many choices, so many paths. I can hardly keep up well enough to do the bare parental minimum. 

Every now and again one of my children will inform me that they do not want to grow up; that in fact, they want to go backwards.  My daughter swears her best year was when she was five.  Life was good, fun, and very simple.  My son wants to be my little boy forever.  His way of putting it: “Growing up sucks.”  I can’t always disagree.

 I think back to my own childhood and marvel at how simple everything was.  I rode bikes, played  games, lay in hay fields staring up at the sky for hours while a dog napped next to me. I remember having a rocking horse just like the one in the statue.  It was made of pale wood with a painted red saddle and real leather reins.  One of the rails got chewed up by a dog but it still rocked.    

Growing up takes courage, especially these days, for kids and parents.   Put one foot in front of the other, every day.  Don’t look down.  Find a park with a statue.  Sit.  Gaze. Enjoy. Remember.  Watch out for pigeons. Chase them like you used to.

Reality Weighs In


A while back I wrote a piece of flash fiction entitled, “The Rock of Truth.”  Although it hasn’t met with wide public approval (read: it hasn’t been published), it is still one of my favourites.  It outlines the a very brief trajectory of a love affair gone awry.  The turning point of the piece is when the narrator talks about being bashed on the head by the rock of truth.  “The rock of truth weighs about a 1,000 pounds.”

Turns out the rock of truth weighs a good deal more than a 1,000 pounds regardless of why it hits.

Having the rock of truth score a direct hit tends to hurt; it positions itself directly on the heart. The term “heavy heart” keeps floating around and around in my head. My heart is a lump in my chest that drags me down and makes it hard to breathe – quite the opposite of the life-giving organ it usually is.  The opposite of “light-hearted” is what I am.

Circumstances dictate that I carry on; pretend that I’ve not been felled by a 1,000 pound behemoth.  Although the heaviness remains, life goes on.  One of the hardest parts about getting hit by the rock of truth is the painful process of crawling out from underneath it.   I have to look forward and not flinch every time a cloud passes overhead.

The bruises remain on my heart; they will fade, eventually.  The shadow of the rock will shrink as time works its slow magic. Until the next time.  There’s always a next time with the rock of truth.

Smells Like Teen Disdain


[Note:  at a certain family member’s request, I am asked to no longer “write about our family on the blog.”  Being sensitive to such requests, I will endeavour to write about family matters without naming names, specific events etc.  I will also change the category from “Banshee Life” to “Imaginary, Fictional Banshee Life.” Yeah, right.]

My first blog post here was a piece about mother sea turtle envy.  It just dawned on me in the shower why mama sea turtles lay their eggs and then lumber off as quickly as they can:  They want to avoid watching their adorable little hatchlings go through their teenage phase.

I still think those sea turtles have it all figured out.

Although the human survival rate is much greater than that of baby sea turtles, parents of teenagers must wonder when they’re right in the thick of it.  That is to say, it is not always fun to be the parent of one or more of them (not that I can comment personally, see note above).

National Geographic magazine’s October issue contains an article entitled, “The New Science of the Teenage Brain” – a must-read for parents of teens although it won’t ultimately make the road any less bumpy.

The long and the short of it is that teenage brains are only half baked which explains in large part why they do things that we wise adults consider half baked.

The article quotes Aristotle, who summed up the teen condition best when he said, “the young are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine.”  Yep.  The heat is the  neurological oven cooking in all the necessary ingredients for a happy, healthy, stable (eventually) person.  Now, with sophisticated brain scanning technology, scientists can monitor a teenage brain’s development and its patterns of activity giving a clearer but no less scary peek at “what the f**k was he/she thinking and why.

It appears all of the teenaged craziness is absolutely necessary for healthy development of the brain – without this period of drama, angst, and eye-rolling, humans would actually become dumber.

The article details how brains go through a total upheaval and re-org between the ages of 12 and 25.  The developmental equivalent of say, the formation of the Rocky Mountains.  The problem with all of this re-organization and re-wiring is that it takes a loooooong time and within bodies that look adult-sized.  This explains why someone’s 15 year old son who is 6’2” and has to shave still does incredibly “stupid” things.  The brain scan studies have led to some to question as to whether  teenagers are not in a state similar to mental retardation.

OMG.  Not comforting news, I know.  These half baked people get driver’s licenses

However fun to repeat, that explanation doesn’t tell the whole story.    According to scientists, a more accurate explanation is that the teenage brain is only attempting to perfect its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.  The teenage desire to try new things (whether they’re dangerous or not), “leads directly to useful experience.”  Some parents may have a hard time figuring how a tongue piercing will lead to useful experience…

According to studies, the most dangerous risks are taken by 14-17 year olds; they know damn well it’s dangerous but they process things differently.  Hence, if they survive the cliff jump, the the total awesomeness of surviving it is worth far more to them than the possible risk of death.  An adult brain might ponder the usefulness of this experience and choose a more sedate activity.  If teenagers always chose the “safe” thing to do, it might lead to less gray haired parents but also the downfall of the species.

On friends:  teenagers value their friends more than they value their families at this stage – a teenage girl’s BFF knows way more about her life than her mom.  Quite a few parents don’t find out exactly what their teenagers were up to until those kids are about 30 years old.  “Oh, Mom if you only knew some of the shitt I did!”

Scientists say looking outside the confines of family for new experiences is good.   At the most basic level, it introduces them to new stuff and people.  New is good (in an ideal situation).  It’s basic species survival – in prehistoric times, this thirst for new experiences might lead to meeting cave neighbours who could help defend against pesky sabre-tooth tigers.  In the complicated neural pathways of the brain, social acceptance still equals survival; social rejection equals ceasing to exist.  This is not drama queen stuff.  If something goes awry with a social relationship and a teenager wails, “You just don’t understand! My life is OVER!!” their still-developing brain thinks it might be true.

Does all of this information make raising a teen any easier?  Maybe, maybe not.   If parents  quoted Aristotle, just imagine the looks they’d get.  The article urges parents to “guide their teens with a light but steady hand, staying connected but allowing independence…”  The steady hand part means parents should not self-medicate with that tempting cocktail of vodka and Valium, I suppose.

So when your under-cooked teen comes home gushing about the cliff jump, calmly retire to a private place and then faint.   When one of them barrels through the door,throwes themselves on the floor and declares the world is ending, breathe deep.  Don’t ask too many questions.  Don’t move too suddenly.   Never show fear or weakness (same as dealing with wild animals).  Cross your fingers, keep a rabbit’s foot, whatever it takes.  Necessary or not, the teenage years will still be a bumpy ride.

Sources:  National Geographic, October 2011 “Beautiful Brains,” by David Dobbs

Personal experience of Wee Banshee   (can’t talk about that)