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

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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.

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Here’s to the Dads!

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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.