It’s THAT time of the year again ….

north_america_flag_map_by_lg_studio

The Chepitas are off on another epic jaunt across the country. The hamsters have been packed off to a friend’s house, and the plants have been watered and left to their own devices. We’re less than 24 hours from leaving, and – as usual – we still havn’t decided where we’re going. Texas is being given heavy consideration. When Fiona was a baby, we travelled to Texas and …. well, it’s kinda big. We managed to make it to Lubbock (which contains the Buddy Holly Museum, in case you ever go there), and to a Rangers game in Arlington. We drove to El Paso, and walked with Fiona in a stroller across the border to Juarez (this was, of course, before one was likely to be beheaded, burned and dumped in a mass grave there). Oddly enough, we drove past George W. Bush’s childhood home. There’s still alot of Texas to see, though, so we’re thinking it’s time to return. If we can! In any case, you won’t be hearing from me for about three weeks. And, unless someone’s dead (or suddenly dizzyingly wealthy and in a sharing mood), I don’t want to hear from you, either. I tend to tune out and turn off when I’m travelling. If you find yourself missing me (please, please, please miss me), here’s a list of posts I’ve written about road-tripping that could be worth a second look:

1) What happens to a car when you practically live in it?

2) How NOT to kill your kids when you’re trapped in a moving vehicle with them ….

3) You should go Kansas. Yes, you should! It’s got chicken-fried steak and a salt mine.

Maybe you should do a little long-haul truckin’, yourself! See you when we get back!

Ladies and gentleman, it’s Talent(less) Show Season!

Chord_CU21_UKULELE

School wrapped up last week. This is always a welcome thing in our house. Last year, around this time, I wrote about how happy the end of school makes me. Ryan and I have cobbled together a few options for the summer weeks we need to cover because – alas – the office does not share a schedule with school. I used to righteously proclaim that becoming a teacher just to have summers off is wrong. Bullshit. Nowadays, I’d take that deal in an instant, and I wouldn’t feel the slightest tinge of remorse. However, I like my regular paycheques, and going back to school just sounds like alot of fuss …. So, day camps it is! I have this week off, though, and I used part of it yesterday to take Fiona and Bridget to Calypso – and that was a fantastic way to kick off summer! Our collective favourite was the Canyon Rafting ride, which we did seven times. We all slept like babies last night …. Which, as the kids pointed out, does not make much sense. Babies are known for not sleeping. So, um, I guess we slept like people who’ve spent seven hours at a water park.

Back to the end of the school year …. Now that Fiona and Bridget are officially big kids, it’s not just about digging down to the dark, nasty bottom of a backpack, looking at a year’s worth of scribbles complete with run-on-sentence narration, and being able to serve all the peanut butter you feel like serving. It’s also about talent shows. This year, there were two – one at their school, and one at their after-school program. Talent shows are the ugly child of childhood pageantry: adorable, but with a face only a mother could love. Well, there are a few fathers in the audience, and the odd grandparent – but the crowd is composed primarily of mothers. Children don’t have to take a year’s worth of lessons (or, indeed, any lessons at all) in any discipline to enter. They just have to write their name on a list, and – TA-DA – they are performers!

There are always a few singers who can’t sing. There is the odd comedy routine which may or may not contain anything even the slightest bit funny. This year, there was a pair of boys who did card tricks, and their act was cool. There was a kid who played the harp. Yes, the harp. His father, whose hair and complexion appeared to be inspired by Edward Scissorhands, set up the large instrument just before the show. The harp kid’s name was, of course, Malcolm. What else? Malcolm’s harp playing was unimpressive, but it was much better than last year’s oddest musical offering: twenty-three kids plonking away on plastic ukeleles and yowling “You Are My Sunshine”. Whenever a kid plays a musical instrument at a talent show, I always play a private guessing game as to whether the kid has physically encountered their chosen instrument before the show …. I feel that, most of the time, the answer is “no, nay, never”. (If you just mentally roared “right up your kilt”, I’m sure you’re not alone ….)

The majority of acts are choreographed dance routines to “clean” versions of pop songs. Hence, Fiona and two friends of hers danced to a version of “Uptown Funk” that did not include the words “damn” or “liquour”. I was unsuccessful in hiding my amusement when a whole gym’s worth of children cheerfully sang the real lyrics anyway. “Uptown Funk” being one of the most popular songs of the past few months, Fiona and her friends were not the only ones using it in their act. I watched no less than four “Uptown Funk” interpretations in the two talent shows it was my dubious privilege to attend. As much as I like that song, it was more than enough for me. A girl from one of the other groups cheerfully informed me that they were calling themselves the “uptown funkers”. I was a tongue-slip away from saying “well, I guess that makes me a mother-funker”, but (thankfully) my mouth behaved itself for once. Fiona and her friends, in matching fedoras and striped t-shirts, surprised me by giving a great performance. I am one of my daughters’ two biggest cheerleaders, but I am more realistic than they are when it comes to their own abilities to dazzle. This is as it should be; I am not looking forward to the end of their innocent belief that they can do anything. Those matching shirts were a source of angst for weeks. Fiona worried aloud almost daily about the fact that she and her friends did not own anything matching. I offered to take her and her friends shopping. This didn’t happen, because Fiona declared that she and her friends had decided on an outfit that her friends already owned. So, off with us to Walmart to find the outfit her friends had described to her. We couldn’t find it, of course, and Fiona was nearly hyperventilating as she declared that we had to go to some other Walmart, and if that didn’t do it we’d go to another, and on and on. I spied matching t-shirts, $4 each. In desperation, I said “I will buy these shirts for you and your two friends”. Basically, I paid $12 to bail myself out of a Saturday afternoon spent in every Walmart in eastern Ontario. Bridget’s role in the school talent show was an easier one: she was singing “Best Day of My Life” with a choir, and the song was one they had already performed at a choral celebration. No practice needed, and no shopping, either.

They both sang in their after-school program talent show – Fiona and a friend singing “Hot N Cold” and Bridget and a friend singing “Budapest”. Fiona has decent timing, and Bridget can carry a tune. Sadly, they did not magically meld into one fine singer – but they weren’t terrible, either. The show contained some awful singing, feather-dancers who dropped their feathers multiple times and three breakdancers who couldn’t breakdance. Looking around the room, though, I saw the same thing I had seen at the school talent show the day before: beaming, happy parents. It was easy to figure out which parent’s child was performing. It was the parent whose rapt attention was focused on the stage, as if wearing blinders, nodding or mouthing along (or both), glowing with pride. We all know our kids’ limitations (well, most of us do, anyway – there are always a few who think they’ve birthed the second coming), but we don’t care. We showed up anyway, and – for the few minutes they were performing – there was only one thing we could see. The sweet, shining face of our son or daughter, our one-in-six-billion. And those minutes were well worth all the stumbling, caterwauling, kerplunking and tooth-grinding of the alleged talent show. On the drive home, Fiona and Bridget mused over what they would do in next year’s talent show. Mercifully, between now and then, there’s a whole summer to not talk about it.

Here’s to the Dads!

013

Father’s Day is always bittersweet for me. I miss my Dad. Even after fourteen Father’s Days without him, it stings that I can’t call him today. He never was much of a phone guy, and he’d probably only spend about five minutes chatting, but just to hear his voice …. This sadness is always countered by happiness, because I’ve spent the last ten Father’s Days celebrating Ryan’s role in our household. Watching him interact with Fiona and Bridget, sharing his goofiness, tenderness and wisdom, makes me so happy for the three of them. They’ve been blessed, and – because I love them – so have I.

Fatherhood seems to have become more complicated over the years. Television used to present Dad as a formally dressed man with no-nonsense hair peering over the top of his newspaper to speak sternly (but warmly) to his children. This was Dad in most real households, too. These days, that image has changed. Dads are often the goofballs and scofflaws of the family. Sometimes, they will have a deep talk with their kids as music swells in the background (ending with a pithy comment to bring on the laugh track). Sometimes, they are at home with their kids while Mom makes money – and domestic chaos ensues that would never happen on Mom’s watch. They may be bringing home the bacon like the old days, but they’re also frying it (with, of course, hilarious results like kitchen fires or dinners even the dog won’t touch). Or they’re just not there.

In real life, there are as many ways to be a Dad as there are Dads. I know of more than one home where Dad is the cook (and the results are delicious – not even remotely funny). There are many Dads who are at home with their kids, and doing it just as well as Mom would – presiding over well-run houses, clean piles of laundry and happy, well-behaved kids. There are as many Dads at the park and volunteering at school as there are Moms. Dad working outside the home is still the most common scenario, but he doesn’t always come home and sit behind a newspaper – or get the kids all wound up and leave Mom to play bad cop. He changes the baby’s diaper, and helps big sister or brother with homework. He might do man things like mowing the lawn, but he might also clean the bathroom or vacuum the rug.

Ryan is his own special mix of Dadness. He works full-time, and when he comes home he likes a nap. But he makes time to play Super Mario Bros. with Fiona, and drops his dignity to play Just Dance with Bridget. When dinner’s over, he’s the one who cleans up the kitchen. He does some of the housework, but he is also the payer of bills, mower of lawns, and keeper of the gas tank (I fill the car up once or twice a year, usually after Ryan reminds me the tank is low). He helps Fiona and Bridget with their homework more often than I do because I have very little patience for it. Also, math. He’s one of those odd individuals who enjoys math, while I am now third in our family when it comes to math proficiency. And this will probably only last until Bridget hits fourth grade …. He needs time to himself, but he eagerly shares his passion for music and scrabble with the girls. Ryan can be crazy with them, but he’s also the law in this here town. I may make alot of noise – I’m the official family screamer – but I’m also a softy. I’m the breaker of rules, contrary to what television thinks my role should be. Ryan is orderly, and likes rules. He’s been making his own as a father since the moment he cut the cord and announced “it’s a girl – I think“. His set of rules – his path – was a little more solid by the time he caught his first glimpse of Bridget, tears of joy blurring his vision because he had another daughter (he was always meant to be a Dad of girls). Now, he’s a seasoned father, most of the time approaching his calling with confidence, grace and gratitude.

Seems like most of the airtime when it comes to parenting is taken up by mothers – but this one’s for the fathers out there. The ones who are around all the time, the ones who only get every other weekend, the ones who work away from home in remote locations or  overseas on military missions. The goofy ones, the stern ones, the brand-new ones and the ones who’ve been around the block. The ones who are doing their best and praying for patience, the ones who feel overwhelmed by it all and the ones who know they’ve got this. No matter how much is said about Mom, you’re just as special – and needed. Your wisdom, your kindness, and the solid comfort of your presence will be with your children long after you are gone. Here’s to you, Dad!

35 Things

It’s been a while, I admit. We went to Vegas (and took about thirty hours getting home). Then, there was some writer’s block. Then, it was my birthday. I turned 35 last Tuesday (because, as discussed when I turned 34, my birthday has made a yearly habit of ignoring the fact that each week contains a Friday, Saturday and Sunday). I had a lovely birthday. Ryan, Fiona and Bridget wished me a happy birthday first thing Tuesday morning. A good friend left a bottle of red on my desk for me to discover upon my arrival at work. Co-workers treated me to lunch.The Facebook love was being free-poured. After work, I went out for dinner with my family, who gave me some wonderful presents. And they sneakily made me an adorable cake while I was out of the house: 11425242_10155727983395173_3505860502389380124_n

Some days, I feel every bit of 35. Most days, though, I have to shake my head like there’s a fly buzzing around inside it when I consider my age. I am now a teenager’s lifetime past my teen years. I am half of 70. This doesn’t upset me, but it surprises me – I feel like 35 jumped out of a closet at me and yelled “boo”. Wasn’t I 25 just a couple of years ago? Where did my twenties go anyway? Aren’t my thirties a new thing? They (the oft-quoted they who are never done saying things) say that with age comes wisdom. I don’t know if I’ve become ever-so-much wiser – but I do know that I’ve learned many useful things. Some of them, I’m still working on – but it’s always rewarding when I get it right. Because I’m a blogger, I just know the world can’t go on turning unless I share my observations. In the spirit of my current state, I give you 35 things I know now that I’m 35:

1. Try not to watch everything through cross-hairs. Every now and then, put down the camera and soak in the moment. Pictures are wonderful, but they’re no match for being there.

2. That being said, take pictures (or videos, whatever’s your thing). Most things only happen at this time, this way, with these people once. You can’t repeat the past, but you can make a collection of pleasant reminders that you will enjoy for years to come.

3. Embrace shortcuts. There’s no shame in doing some things quick-n-dirty, especially if they are just things you need to get through in order to move on to what you really want. Don’t buy clothing that needs to be ironed. Your baby doesn’t need homemade applesauce made from organic apples. Don’t torture yourself trying to replicate what you see on Pinterest: craft kits and colouring sheets for everyone! Unless you’re a seamstress, the real fun is trick-or-treating – just buy a Halloween costume. You get the idea.

4. Flowers only bloom for a little while. Enjoy them while they are here, don’t wait until it’s convenient to do so – they may be gone by the time that happens.

5. If you screwed up, eat crow. Sometimes, people – particularly those who love you and expect alot of you – need to hear “I’m sorry”. And saying it can be as good for you as hearing it is for them.

6. Some things are just a broken heart waiting to happen. Balloons. Pet fish. Clothing a size too small because you’re working on losing weight. Items that require batteries other than AAs and AAAs or specialty light bulbs. Most new year’s resolutions.

7. You can’t change people, they have to change themselves. You can present your side to them, and down the road they won’t be able to say you didn’t tell them – and that’s about it.

8. When it comes to make-up, less really is more. You look way better wearing not enough than you do wearing too much. Think about the dreaded foundation line ….

9. You don’t get a do-over on some things. Births, deaths, weddings, divorces – people will remember forever who made their day, and who dragged them down.

10. Not everything is a hill to die on. If you have a hard head and a nasty temper like me, you want to win everything, all the time. But some battles probably won’t matter as little as an hour from now, and aren’t worth my time or energy.

11. Listen to people. All it costs is your time, and maybe a bit of your patience, but it might mean the world to the person who’s talking.

12. Sometimes, the only prize for being right is knowing you’re right.

13. As I move through life, encountering more circumstances and gathering more experience, I find myself forgiving many people I once condemned. Because life can kick your ass, and you don’t know how you’ll be affected by it until it’s happened.

14. Brown-bag it at least half the week. You will save so much money.

15. Speaking of lunch, don’t put off packing your lunch until morning – do it the night before. Mornings are crazy enough.

16. Tasks that are boring, stupid or awful (or all three) don’t improve with procrastination. Getting them done lifts a weight from your shoulders and gives you peace of mind.

17. Make lists. Until you commit them to a list of some kind, your to-dos will buzz around in your brain, generating stress. Writing them down frees up space in your head that you probably didn’t know they were hogging – and an uncluttered mind feels good.

18. Don’t be inconsiderate. Replace the toilet paper if you use the last square. Open a new bag of milk if you drained the old one. Empty the trash can if you see that it’s full. Say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me”, even if you’re just talking to the people you see every day. These little everyday bits of courtesy make everyone’s life easier and more pleasant.

19. There are no boring people – people who may seem boring are just people you don’t know well enough yet. Everybody has something to offer. Sometimes you have to dig really deep, and you may decide that it’s not worth the fuss – and that’s ok, too. We don’t all have to get along all the time.

20. Work with what you’ve got. There’s no guarantee that you will ever have more money or time, or a better job, or be thinner, or have nicer hair. All you can be certain of is this version of you and this point in time. So take what you have and use it to the best of your ability to accomplish whatever it is you want.

21. There’s always someone who does it better – or wears it better or has it better. Enjoy what you have. If you must compare, try to remember that there’s also always somebody who does it worse.

22. Be as kind as you possibly can, always. You don’t know what’s in other people’s hearts, or what their lives are like.

23. Don’t wait til you’re ready for the big things – because you never will be. Nobody’s ever actually ready to move across the country or get married or have babies or quit their job to go back to school. Just do it.

24. Some things should not be rushed. Cooking, gardening, conversations, hugs, a cup of tea or a glass of wine, a good book – these things should be savoured, not guzzled.

25. When dealing with a dramatic daughter, hug first and ask questions later. Or maybe never. Sometimes, a hug is all that’s needed.

26. Don’t put it on your credit card if you don’t have it in your bank account. Alot of people I know, myself included, have learned that lesson the hard way – and credit card companies are tough teachers.

27. Don’t over-commit. I try to be everything to everyone way too often. I end up tired, stressed, frustrated by my lack of free time, and resenting everyone I started out wanting to help.

28. Never ignore plumbing problems, leaks or insect infestations. They never go away on their own.

29. Take care of yourself. It’s far easier to maintain good health and a decent weight than it is to restore yourself to health or lose weight.

30. Experiences trump stuff, every time. You will never smile wistfully (or laugh til you cry) as you flip through photos of your new couch or your crown mouldings or your immaculate lawn.

31. Sometimes, the brand is worth it. When it comes to clothing, though, all a brand name says about you is that you are willing to pay more than you have to for what you wear. The people of Walmart are smarter than they look.

32. Surround yourself with things that make you smile. Whether it’s your favourite colour, your children’s artwork, potted plants, candles, good music – or all of the above – set the scene, and suddenly even ordinary moments have a touch of grace and beauty to them.

33. Figure out your best features and play them up (this applies both to appearance and character). Accept what you can’t change, because – well, you can’t change it!

34. If you weren’t out looking for it, you probably don’t need it – so say “no” to telemarketers and those people who flag you down and wave you over to their kiosk at the mall.

35. Do not worry about what other people think of you. As my Dad always said, people gossiping about you says more about them than you – imagine what a sad life they live, with nothing better to talk about than what you’re up to.

These 35 things are in no particular order, and I’m still wrestling with many of them – and I think the list could be alot longer if I really applied myself. However, writer’s block has set in again – and I only promised 35 things anyway.

In praise of the dandelion ….

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve had it in mind since last spring. In fact, I came this close to writing about dandelions a little over a year ago. Instead, I wrote about a crowd of crazies on Long Island, NY, who were making their teenagers’ lives tough with their ridiculous school safety measures. I thought about writing this post just a few weeks ago, but Mother’s Day made me think about being a mother (go figure). However, the glorious crop of dandelions everywhere I look these days demands to be loved in black and white, so here I go ….

I love dandelions. I love their hopeful, just-try-to-ignore-it colour. I love the feathery lightness of their petals. I love their perfect symmetry. I love the fact that, even in death, they’re beautiful:

TaraxacumOfficinaleSeed

I love that children make wishes on the seeds. I love their resilience. I love them so much that I stop to admire them (sometimes taking pictures of them) on my way to wherever I’m going. I love them so much that I have cheerfully let the lawn become them. I love them so much that I permanently decorated my right arm with them:

002

However, I have had enough conversations with the other side to know that not everyone loves them. Some people hate them so much they will acquire a special tool designed to yank them up. They will spend oodles of time and money getting rid of them. They will poison the earth to ensure that they don’t have to look at a single dandelion on their property, ever. They will look down on neighbours who tolerate them. The appearance of a single yellow puffball on their otherwise suffocatingly boring lawn ruins their day. Like bagging up leaves and throwing them away or hosing down your yard furniture and driveway every other week, it makes no sense.

A dandelion looks like this:

DandelionFlower2

People regularly pay for, and cultivate, this:

yellow-summer-flowers-hd-12

And this:

images (1)

And this:

images

What on earth is the difference between the three examples of desirable yellow flowers I just gave, and dandelions? The way people fuss about them, you`d think dandelions look like this:

913834-3bdb69b0-9b7a-11e4-81ce-e99ffe7ba54e

(Yes, that is a real creature. It’s a blob fish. Google it. Unless you’re eating.)

In case laying out the ridiculousness of your position hasn’t convinced you, here are a few facts about dandelions you might find interesting:

Dandelions are masters of survival. They can take root nearly anywhere, and then become impossible to get rid of. Why? There are a few reasons. For one thing, they are long-lived. A dandelion plant can live for years. You might think you’ve destroyed it by yanking most of it out of the ground, but you’ve merely dampened its spirits. All a dandelion needs to rejuvenate itself is one inch of root. And that root sinks deeper by the year – a dandelion root can grow fifteen feet deep if it needs to. It can muscle its way through gravel, and even cement – so dandelions thrive in the most barren of landscapes. Dandelion fossils have been found in prehistoric deposits – they’ve been around alot longer than we have.

Dandelions are an essential part of our ecosystem. Their flowering is an indicator to bees that the summer is on its way, and in early spring they are an abundant source of pollen and nectar. They are a great source of vitamins and roughage for small animals – rabbits love them. If you like bees, butterflies and bunnies, don’t kill dandelions.

Dandelions are useful. They have been, and can be, used for medicine, food and dye. The roots can be dried and ground to make a coffee substitute (something that made the dandelion of particular importance to early settlers here in North America). They can even be used to make wine.

Believe it or not, dandelions are good for your lawn. Their tough, quick-spreading roots loosen packed soil, aerating it and helping to reduce erosion. The deep root pulls nutrients from far below the surface and makes them available to other plants – like your precious grass.

A colleague of mine told me that he spent an entire day last spring removing dandelions from his lawn. Why? Not because he doesn’t like them, but because he was worried that his neighbours would be annoyed with him if he let them continue to grow on his property. He regretted yanking up what he considers “pretty yellow flowers” just because he was afraid of what people might think. And dandelions are the most common illustration on containers of herbicides …. I believe that people have been conditioned to see dandelions as a problem, and that is why they will go to such lengths to get rid of them. Large squares of flat, green monoculture are not natural – and they are time-consuming, expensive and harmful to the environment. Have you ever really looked at a dandelion – or, better still, a whole field of them? All that beauty is free, and good for everyone.

Motherhood is the gift.

kfc

In case you have just emerged from a lifelong coma, let me share something with you: Mother’s Day is a big deal, y’all! We’re talking spa day big. Diamonds big. Weekend away big. You guys, there is simply nothing that shows adequate appreciation for Mom – chauffeur, chef, maid, nurse, psychiatrist, tutor, playmate, confidante, cheerleader, bankroller and everything else that is really important and would cost mega-money to purchase (but you don’t have to purchase it because Mom is such a flippin’ saint that she does it all for free). So, dig deep …. or Mom will know you’re a complete ingrate who never thinks of anyone but yourself. Of course, she knew that already, because she knows everything about you.

The above parody, as silly as it sounds, really isn’t far from the commercials that air in early May every year. Mothers are such an emotional hot-button, companies know they can wax as nauseatingly gooey as they like, and the general public will play right into their hands. Apparently, many mothers have consumed the Kool-Aid, too – the days after Mother’s Day are just behind the days after Christmas and Valentine’s Day when it comes to filing for divorce. Before Mother’s Day, many mothers hit the net, stating that they want everything from a boozy night out with their girlfriends to a star named after them, whining about the paltry efforts of their children and significant others to make the day special, grimly predicting that Mother’s Day will be just like any other day for them. After Mother’s Day, they come back to complain that it was just as they thought it would be, and that next year they’re buying their own present.

Mother’s Day has been special to me since the day our lovely Fiona made her sharp-eyed, squalling debut. I usually get flowers from Ryan, sweet little handmade whatevers from the girls, and a bucket-of-fried-chicken picnic in the park (I loves me some KFC). This year was no different. Ryan gave me a beautiful bouquet of orange roses, and Bridget chipped in with her allowance because she couldn’t think of a present herself. Fiona gave me a pea plant she planted herself in her classroom, in a decorated pot. I received some nice cards, too. I also put in an order with our two little lovelies. Breakfast in bed just doesn’t work for me, because I am almost always the first one up – and I don’t want anything to do with food until mid-morning or later. So, I told Fiona I wanted her to make me an egg – she fries them just the way I like them. I asked Bridget for a slice of cinnamon toast, because that’s her specialty. I wanted it with a side of fresh fruit, and I wanted it served at ten – not the ass-crack of dawn. I got what I wanted, and ate every bite while two pairs of earnest, eager brown eyes watched my every eyebrow twitch. The KFC picnic has been postponed due to the chilly wind and threat of rain on Sunday. That’s ok; I’ll probably appreciate it more after work one day anyway. These things are nothing big, but I love them. Little gestures of appreciation for my role in this family make me smile, year after year. If they’re all I ever get on Mother’s Day, I’m blessed. I don’t need anything big, because – honestly – when it comes to Mother’s Day, motherhood is the gift.

Yes, being a mother is hard. It’s alot of work, and sometimes it’s utterly thankless. Cleaning a house that is about to get trashed any minute now. Preparing meals that someone always has to complain about. Eating yours cold because you spent mealtime feeding the baby or cleaning up a mess. Laundry – the amazing self-replenishing mountains of laundry! Cutting toenails. Wiping spills, noses and asses. Holding them still while a doctor jabs them with a needle filled with a substance that will keep them from contracting terrible illnesses. Administering foul-tasting medicine you know they need. Being woken up from your badly needed sleep to brush away tears and fears. Trying to keep siblings from destroying each other. Doling out punishments, and ignoring the knots in the pit of your stomach as you listen to them wail. Patiently assisting while they sweat over their homework. Reassuring them, again and again, that the playground bully is wrong – they are worthwhile and intelligent and beautiful. Insisting that they take responsibility for household chores and pets and their own bad habits. Staring down their nasty attitude when they get just a little too big for their britches. Seeing the accusation in their eyes when you choose not to rescue them, in the hope that they’ll learn to rescue themselves. Saying the same damn thing, day after day after day. Sometimes, it feels like you’re shovelling snow in a blizzard. In fact, when their children are very little, alot of mothers confess that all they want for Mother’s Day is to be left alone for more than five minutes! I was one of them, I don’t mind admitting!

But being a mother is also a profound privilege. You are their safe place, their first frame of reference. They have tracked your eyes and voice since birth to understand the world around them. You are all they want when they are sick or hurt. You witness not only their obvious firsts, like steps and words, but also the first time they share voluntarily or recognize that someone else is having a bad day and offer a hug. You are the test subject for everything from their first cartwheel to their first cuss. You get all the questions, from why-is-the-sky-blue to why-did-Grandpa-have-to-die to where-do-babies-come-from. You are the recipient of bouquets of dandelions, sparkly rocks, spontaneous (if, at times, sloppy) kisses. You teach them how to cook a balanced meal, how to clean a bathroom, why you should not leave wet clothes in a plastic bag for more than a day. You share your stories with them, and enjoy their reaction. You hear their take on the world, day after day, because with you they are simply themselves. You soak in their tears and cheer with them over their victories. Until they die, they will hear your words and feel your arms encircling them, whether you’re there or not. You don’t need all that stuff. What you’ve got is beyond price. Happy Mother’s Day, all day, every day.

Can we give a child soldier a second chance?

omar-khadr.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

In 2002, Omar Ahmed Khadr was just fifteen years old when he tragically changed the course of several lives. In the midst of a firefight in Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan, he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier, medic Christopher Speer. In the same skirmish, Omar was severely wounded. He was captured by the Americans, charged with various war crimes, and held at Guantanamo Bay for over a decade. After nearly a decade of imprisonment and torture, he pleaded – and was found – guilty. We know all about him – because he’s not just any underage war criminal. He’s our underage war criminal. He was born in Canada, to Canadian citizens of Egyptian and Palestinian origin. He spent his childhood bouncing back and forth between Canada and the Middle East, attempting to settle in Afghanistan just in time to be swept up in its conflict with the United States. Young Omar joined the war effort against America, and has paid a heavy price for it. He was repatriated to Canada in 2012, and this week he was set free on bail. His freedom comes with a number of conditions, from a nightly curfew and an electronic tracker to restricted internet usage and supervision of all contact with his family.

For many Canadians, the name Omar Khadr is synonymous with evil. To them, he’s a lost cause – a terrorist who murdered one of the good guys, a threat to our peace and stability, deserving of a lifetime wasting away in a chamber of horrors like Guantanamo Bay. For many other Canadians – myself included – he’s one of us, and deserving of better than what he’s been given.

For one thing, he was a young offender. He was a teenager. Think about your teen years for a moment …. All of us did stupid things when we were fifteen. Some of us did illegal things, and some of us did awful things. A teenager’s brain is not like an adult’s brain, which is why they are treated differently by the justice system. Under Canadian law, to which he is entitled as a Canadian citizen, he should have been tried as a child. Many young Canadians commit terrible crimes. The ones who are under eighteen, like Omar at the time of his capture, are given special consideration by the law. Juries and judges consider their upbringing and circumstances, and usually hand them lighter sentences than they would receive if they were older. Their names cannot be released, because we want them to straighten up and fly right, without the burden of notoriety. They are given a chance to learn from their mistakes and change for the better. For another thing, Omar was heavily influenced by his family, and thought he was fighting for them. Like many young people, he had a limited world view shaped by limited experience – and his elders took advantage of that to use him as fodder for their war machine.

Even adults in Canada who commit heinous crimes are often given a chance to reform. There are armed robbers, rapists and murderers here in Canada who have spent less time in jail than Omar, and their crimes were committed independently – as adults in a free and peaceful country. Are they entitled to more leniency and goodwill than Omar?

Did he do something horrible? Yes. He took a life. It may not have been the first one, either. He took Christopher Speer from his wife and two children, and everyone else who loved him. He spent years being punished for it. He was fifteen when he lost his freedom; he’s just now getting some of it back at twenty-eight. He has apologised repeatedly for what he did, and is asking other young people to stay away from the influence of terrorism and seek education. He has denounced jihad, and intends to live a peaceful life. He is thankful to Canada for setting him free, and has promised to prove that he is a good person. This will be much easier for him to do if Canadians give him a second shot – if we extend a hand in welcome and good faith, rather than turning our back on him and writing him off.