Congratulations on getting through the easiest part of your life?

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The youth and I do not always get along well, it’s true. There are alot of things I just don’t understand about how they do their thang. Fake glasses with thick frames, when all I ever wanted to do with my glasses was get rid of them. All that eyeliner. High-waisted shorts. Man buns. Endless selfies under layers of filters. Texting each other when they’re in the same room. The strange popularity of obnoxious YouTubers. I will stop right there, as I don’t want to sound like a shirty old cuss. Now, if everybody will just get off my lawn and pull up their pants, I’ll get on with this rare post in support of young people.

It’s graduation season. All over the world, people are closing the book on one chapter of their life and moving on to another. Our darling Fiona is leaving the familiarity and security of her school of the past five years for highschool at Notre Dame. With the added fuss of end-of-the-year activities, including uniform fittings and a leaving ceremony (because apparently sixth grade grad is a thing), our June’s been ridiculously busy. She’s excited and nervous, all at once. Big changes are coming. Every spring, for several years now, my Facebook newsfeed contains at least one person sharing the following meme:

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It’s made me snicker every time, I admit. However, it’s not true. Being a kid is actually really hard.

Your personality is still forming – and so are those of your peers. This means that every day you make a conscious decision as to how to present yourself to the world, and that world consists mainly of people who are too immature to respect what you’re offering. Popularity occupies a disproportionate level of importance, and is based heavily on things that are beyond your control. Good hair. Clear skin. The right (i.e. trendy and expensive) clothes. Smooth moves. I’m pretty sure teenagers have not changed that much since my own teen years – which means smooth moves still elude many of them. You have strong opinions, but they are laughed at by many of your peers and dismissed by parents and teachers. What do you know? Talk to me again when you’ve been around the block a few times …. If you put out, you’re a slut – and guys like you while girls scorn you. If you abstain from sex, you’re a prude – and girls like you while guys don’t bother with you. If you’re queer, you face the heavy task of trusting people with that deeply personal piece of information – and they might not react well. Everyone probably assumes you’re straight. You’ve been alive less than 20 years, but people are asking you what you want to do with the next 30 or 40 years of your life. You are constantly being tested on what you know, even though alot of what you know is new – and there’s more of it every day. The results of these tests determine whether you can follow the career path you’ve told everyone you want to follow. You’re being evaluated by just one institution’s accepted metrics – yet you’re being told that you have to measure up or you’re going nowhere in life. You’re facing years of testing, development, uncertainty – and debt.

Not all of you are going to make it. Failure, bad choices, heartache, unintended pregnancy, mental illness, drugs, crime, and suicide stalk you like wolves. Your generation is the one that is most vulnerable to all of these things. If you’ve made it to graduation, fab for you – it wasn’t easy, and you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Here’s to your future!

 

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All parents come a little too close to the gorillas and alligators sometimes.

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It’s been a month since I last wrote anything more than a one-line love note or a grocery list. It’s not that I’ve been too busy to write, or that there’s been nothing to write about. It’s just writer’s block, really – or maybe plain old laziness. In any case, I’m back today because of two animals: a gorilla and an alligator. By now, the stories are well-known. A four-year-old boy visiting the Cincinnati Zoo climbed into the enclosure of Harambe the gorilla. The gorilla started dragging the boy around. Zoo officials made the heart-wrenching decision to save the boy’s life by shooting Harambe. A two-year-old boy visiting Disney was snatched by an alligator while wading in a lagoon. His father fought with the animal, but was no match for it. Divers recovered little Lane Graves’ body yesterday. The parents of both children have received harsh criticism – and, in some cases, pure cruelty – from around the world. These days, anyone with an opinion and an internet connection can say whatever they want to a massive audience in a matter of seconds. In some cases, of course, what people have to say is enlightening and uplifting. Other times, it’s as if we’ve handed a bullhorn to bullshit.

In all honesty, I am often quick to judge, myself. My first thought when I heard about these incidents was to wonder where the parents were and what they were doing. The more I thought about it, though, the more I felt the uncomfortable sensation of my own pointing finger turning back to me. There are no perfect parents. On our confident days, we just know we’re doing a damn fine job. Other days, doubts gnaw at the edges of our underslept, overstimuated minds, and we feel like we’re doing everything wrong. The truth is, as usual, somewhere in the middle.

If the mother in Cincinnati had caught her son by the back of his shirt as he was scaling the barrier, if the father in Florida had picked up his son just seconds earlier, they’d be just like the rest of us – laughing uneasily about a near-miss, and deeply grateful that nothing bad happened. Because it happens to all of us. A few seconds here, a few inches there, a last-minute detour – and it could have been us and our children. In solidarity with these parents, I present my own gallery of gorillas and alligators:

  • When Fiona was just days old, I accidentally dipped her face below the bathwater. My mother noticed before I did, yanked her out of the bath and pounded her back until she sputtered and wailed. Would I, inexperienced, hormonal and sleep-deprived, have noticed in time if my mother had not been there?
  • A few months later, Fiona rolled off the couch onto the hardwood floor. I just didn’t know she could roll yet …. What if she had landed on her soft baby head?
  • Strolling along on a sunny day, Fiona’s car seat (with her in it) was ejected from her stroller as I rolled it over a bump, because it wasn’t connected to the stroller properly. She flew through the air, landing face down, and I cried with gratitude when I saw that somehow she was ok. She could so easily have not been ok.
  • Fiona just about severed Bridget’s pinky finger playing a door-slamming game. (And can somebody, anybody, tell me what is so amazing about slamming doors? Every time the girls get together with their friends, there’s always some point where I find myself yelling at them to stop slamming doors.)  Blood everywhere, screaming, stitches – and where were the parents? Having a coffee in the next room. Yes, that’s right, we were in a different room than our 3- and 1- year-old daughters, relaxing – and one of them got badly injured while we were at it.
  • Bridget had not one, not two, not three, but four allergic reactions to eggs before we figured out that eggs were her issue.
  • Fiona once opened the car door on the highway. And it wasn’t rush hour, either, so we were going full-speed. Thankfully, she was strapped into her booster seat, and the wind quickly forced the door shut again.
  • I turned my back for the length of time it took to tell Fiona to put on her shoes, and Bridget fell off the toilet straight onto her face. She still has a small scar on her forehead from the edge of the trash can. I suppose it could have been worse ….
  • Fiona toppled over on an escalator, tumbling down a few steps and crouching in fear as she neared the bottom. She bawled while I hollered at her from my place at the top of the escalator, clutching Bridget, to stand up and get off the escalator when it reached the bottom – and I was petrified that her hair or clothes would get caught.They didn’t. She listened to my frantic, barking instructions, and stepped off unscathed, aside from a few nasty metal-teeth gashes.
  • Bridget tried peeling potatoes …. and peeled a deep strip of skin off her finger. She bled copiously, and I worried about potential infection from dirty potato skins for days afterwards.
  • Fiona recently had an anaphylactic reaction to …. something. Her appointment with an allergist is in November, so I guess we’ll know then. Her reaction was not recognized until her face was swelling up and she was wheezing – because neither Ryan nor I thought she was that serious when she said she was winded from her time at the park.

The girls have been left alone in the house, and in the car. There’s been carpet burn because we weren’t close enough on the stairs, road-burn because we weren’t in reach during bicycle incidents. We’ve arrived at our destination and seen that one or the other of our daughters wasn’t strapped in properly. We’ve found ourselves in a scary situation because one or the other of the girls is choking on a food they weren’t ready for yet – or crammed in too fast. Both girls have broken away in a parking lot or across a street. They’ve both disappeared in stores. More than once, I’ve scanned the horizon at the beach and waited breathlessly for their sleek, wet heads to surface. They go to the park by themselves, and I wonder while they’re gone whether this is a healthy part of their development or me jumping the gun for convenience. Both Ryan and I have been distracted while driving. In fact, find me one person on the face of the planet who has not been distracted while driving kids around! But we’re ok. The kids are still living, breathing, fighting, lipping back, making messes and eating money – by the grace of God, by the hand of fate, by a hair, by the skin of their teeth. What would the headlines look like otherwise? I remember my brother almost falling into the Grand Canyon, and my father catching him by the back of his overalls. Stupid family drops preschooler in the biggest hole on earth. I remember being on a trip to Florida with my family when I was a child, and parking beside a beach and dashing for the cool blue water. My mother lingered behind and read a sign that warned of the danger of a Portuguese man o’ war infestation. She called us back to shore, and explained that this was not a good place to swim. We moved on. Stupid family ignores warning signs, swims in infested water, loses child to venomous creatures ….

There are so many times when the outcome could have been horrendous, heartbreaking, crippling. But it wasn’t. We got away. These families didn’t, who knows why – and they deserve our sympathy, not our ridicule. Imagine the emotions of the mother in Cincinnati as she saw her child at the mercy of a 450 lb gorilla and waited helplessly to see what zoo staff would do. Imagine the desperation of the father in Florida as he fought off the alligator. His son was dragged into the water by a prehistoric reptile, never to be seen alive again. What punishment could be harder than that? Yet asshole armchair quarterbacks do not hesitate to add to the pain by blaming the parents, who were doing their best.

In as much as we are all Nigeria, Charlie Hebdo, France, Syria, Orlando …. we are also all that mother, that father. The only thing standing between us and them is the luck of the draw. We are humanity, and the death of one diminishes all of us. Love and mercy today. That’s all.

Cause of death: Stupidity

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Last week, on my way home from dropping Ryan off at work, and Fiona and Bridget off at school, a car seemingly appeared out of nowhere and loomed in my rear window. I nervously increased my speed to make some space between us. This was unnecessary, as the car proceeded to shoot sideways into the right lane and roar past me. I like a good gander at a lunatic as much as the next person, so I glanced to my right. The driver was – of course – blabbering away on his cell. Not cupped close to his head surreptitiously, either, but shamelessly brandished about a foot away from his mouth like a bloody microphone. I watched in helpless horror as he ran a red light (nearly taking out a pedestrian) and faded from sight. If he dies driving that way – or, worse, kills someone else – the cause of death will have to be listed as “stupidity”. No matter what measures are introduced, and there have been many, some people still insist on chatting on their hand-held device while driving. Here in Ontario, the minimum fine is $400, and three demerit points are applied to your driving record. But that guy – and others I see daily – still want to yack and drive. For an extra dollop of stupid, there are people who text and drive. At least during a phone call your eyes are still on the road …. You can always tell who’s texting while driving because they are slow to react to everything and their eyes are fixed firmly on their lap.

This irritates me, and reminds me of the darkly entertaining Darwin Awards. Basically, these are tongue-in-cheek awards posthumously presented to people who’ve managed to remove themselves from the gene pool in breathtakingly stupid ways. And there are alot of stupid ways to die. Walking and texting …. right into oncoming traffic and open manholes, right off bridges and cliffs. There is now a Wikipedia page dedicated to people who are injured or die while taking selfies. Apparently, last year, more people were killed by selfie attempts than shark attacks. Selfies with guns, selfies on train tracks, selfies perched perilously on cliffs during storms …. People are trampled to death in pursuit of cheap electronics on Black Friday. Every year during the Stoning of the Devil in Mina, people are stoned, too – and crushed. According to the Washington Post, tens of thousands of people are killed by guns in America every year, whether accidentally or intentionally. Yet many Americans loudly and proudly defend their right to own and use any number of any type of guns. Not just the loopy ones no one listens to, either …. This is the Christmas greeting sent out by Michele Fiore, Republican and elected member of the Nevada Assembly:

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Merry ducking Christmas, everyone! (See what I did there? Fine. I made myself laugh, anyway.)

In 2015, two people were shot by toddlers. Yes, toddlers. Thirteen toddlers killed themselves, and more injured themselves or others. I guess gun-lovers love their guns so much they don’t ever want to put them away (or even employ the safety catch). In fact, the story that inspired today’s BethBlog rant is about a woman shot by her four-year-old son. In a karmic twist, Jamie Gilt is a high-profile pro-gun activist who has already introduced her son to target shooting with a .22. Two days ago, she was driving with two things in the back seat: her son and a loaded .45 semi-automatic. The boy picked up the gun, aimed at his mother and shot her in the back through the driver’s seat. It looks like she’ll live, and her son (thankfully) was unharmed. Less than a month ago, Gilt posted the following on her Facebook page:

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I guess now she needs to consider whether she needs an extra gun to protect herself from the child she is protecting with her gun.

A peek at the top causes of death in Canada in recent years reveals that we’re really good at killing ourselves slowly, too. Heart disease, stroke, respiratory illnesses, accidents and diabetes are numbers 2 through 6 (respectively). Yet people still keep eating like a fat man in a circus. People still smoke like chimneys and drink like fish. We know that we should wear seatbelts and helmets, that we should look before we cross, that we should leave space between ourselves and the car in front of us …. but how many of us do that every time? We have vaccines, but not all of us use them. Some people operate daycares that are only for the unvaccinated. Or, as I call them, petri dishes with no lids. Years of people using antibiotics incorrectly has resulted in a number of resistant strains of bacteria – superbugs. A surprising number of travellers ignore advisories and happily jaunt off to hotspots, then come home in enclosed spaces with recycled air to ignore quarantine recommendations. Some of us put our faith in quack medicine rather than science, sometimes with tragic results. For example, Alberta couple David and Collet Stephan are currently on trial for allowing their toddler son to die of meningitis rather than seek medical care for him (of course, they didn’t have him vaccinated, because vaccines do not grow on trees or fall from the sky in rain drops. Amazingly enough, water with maple syrup, juice with frozen berries and finally a mixture of apple cider vinegar, horse radish root, hot peppers, mashed onion, garlic and ginger root did nothing to improve his condition. They called an ambulance only after little Ezekiel stopped breathing. These idiots have three other children. Let’s hope they never suffer from more than a common cold, lest they become victims of stupidity-by-proxy, too. Most of us continue to buy huge quantities of mass-produced junk that is bleeding the planet dry of everything we need to live. We’ve been talking about the depletion of earth’s clean, drinkable water for decades; yet, selfish assholes still keep pouring it down the drain for the love of clean decks and cars, and green grass.

There really isn’t anything special about those shirts that say “I’m with stupid”. Because, these days, we’re all with stupid. It’s really just a matter of what kind of stupid is going to be listed on our death certificate ….

Disclaimer: No, I am not perfect. Sometimes I am very stupid, myself. I just hope it doesn’t kill me because then people will throw this blog post all over the internet and the headlines will say “blogger blogged about stupidity then died of it”. Then again, who can resist a shot at being famous? Hmmm ….

 

When you’ve got two girls ….

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From the moment we found out Fiona was on her way, Ryan was gunning for a girl. He wanted a girl so much that he had no idea what he would do if the baby turned out to be a boy. I kind of wanted a boy, but I’m pretty sure the pink outcome was meant to be. All the self-styled clairvoyants who come out of the woodwork when a woman has a baby belly predicted that it would be a girl. When we thought about names, we came up with about a dozen for a girl – and only three for a boy. When she screamed her way out of me, Ryan was allowed to announce the sex, and did so with a line that still makes me laugh – “it’s a girl …. I think”. As soon as he said that, before the nurse placed her in my arms, I knew I wouldn’t have traded her for any number of boys. I still wouldn’t.

Flash forward to my second pregnancy – Ryan and I both wanted Thing 2 to be a girl. We had been living with a baby girl for over a year, and we couldn’t think of anything better. (Well, aside from sleeping in or drinking coffee while it was still hot – but that horse had bolted, and closing the gate was no longer an option anyway.) Other people really wanted the second baby to be a boy. Some people said “that way, you’ll have one of each”. As if children are collectables. Others said “oh, well, this one has to be a boy – for Ryan”. Ryan, who wanted a girl even more this time around, because he actually knew what he was wishing for. As if a man’s life is not complete unless he’s left behind an anatomically correct copy of himself. In any case, when Bridget was yanked out of me (a breech baby who refused to turn, born at a hospital where there was only one doctor with any experience in natural breech births – yes, please, I’ll take that scheduled c-section), and we saw that we had another girl on our hands, we both had tears of joy in our eyes. Another girl! A sister for Fiona! What a blessing Bridget was (and is).

Of course, Bridget was about a week old when a few people asked us if we were going to try for a boy. And is it just me, or is that a really icky question? “Yes, I know you’ve just spent the better part of a year pregnant and delivered a healthy baby girl just days ago and you’re probably super-stoked about that, but are you going to have unprotected sex again anytime soon in the hopes of conceiving a human with a penis?” Anyway. In the eight years that we have been a family of four that includes two girls, I have learned that there are some things you never have enough of when you live that way.

1. Ear plugs. Though they are close, Fiona and Bridget have their share of conflict. When they cross swords, it’s loud and high-pitched. I often tell people that they make noises only dogs or dolphins could interpret when they’re upset with each other. They don’t pound each other like my brother and I used to do. They use emotional weapons. They natter and chip away at each other. They fling accusations and cruel jabs around like confetti at the saddest, most annoying party you’ve ever been to. They mutter things under their breath, then refuse to repeat them while the offended party demands double-digit times to hear whatever was muttered. They know exactly where all the buttons are and how to push them. Whatever you do, though, do not get involved. You will regret it. You’ll come along, wanting to be a hero, with your casual “hey, now, what’s all this” – and they will steal all the air in the room and paste you to the wall with their rapid-fire account of what really happened, interrupting and shrieking atop each other until your eyes cross and you’re tempted to feign death to make it stop. For double the noise, let them have one of their friends over. Then they start to resemble a siren as they chase each other from room to room. Also, there is all that talking. Girls talk and talk and talk, with nary a concession to punctuation or even the need to breathe, and every single thing they say is utterly fascinating to them and therefore you must stop everything and soak it in. For as long as it takes. Come to think of it, I never stopped doing that. Must add ear plugs for Ryan to the shopping list ….

2. Tissues. In any given group of girls, at any time of the day or night, someone is guaranteed to be crying. They are so sensitive and dramatic that a single look can contain a paragraph of the unspoken, all of it to be taken personally. Don’t like the game everyone’s playing? Cry. Two people are talking and giggling? It’s totes about you. Cry. Your friend’s crush likes her and yours doesn’t know you exist? Cry. Other girls have a plan and you havn’t been included (yet)? The teacher cleared her throat and it was so directed at you? There’s a YouTube video featuring orphaned kittens? Your hair won’t go the way you want it to? You don’t like any of your shirts? It’s Thursday and you wanted it to be Friday (yes, this actually happened in our house recently)? Cry, cry, cry. (Like that bit of Johnny? Me, too.) “My green shirt is …. well, it’s just too …. green. I don’t think it was this green last time I wore it. It was my favourite shirt, too. I’ll never get another shirt like this, not ever. I hate this shirt. I hate all my shirts.” Pass the tissues.

3. Glitter. They put that shit on everything. Artwork, hair, skin, nails, siblings, pets. You can get it in a spray can. Imagine the fallout …. I don’t have to imagine because we had that once, and the results still shimmer and wink at me from our walls and ceiling. Glitter is like an infectious disease that is resistant to all medicines – once you’ve got it, you’re a carrier for life. Our house has not been glitter-free since Fiona was a toddler. Next time you’re at my house, ask me to show you where the glitter is. Currently, there’s some on the upstairs bathroom floor because Bridget spilled a container of it while trying to put it on her lips. There’s also a more-or-less permanent dusting of it on the laundry room floor because they have clothes with built-in glitter that rubs off in the washer and dryer. Consequently, I have glitter on my clothes. The rugs in their bedrooms have received a generous dusting, as has the carpet in the basement. And yet if you ask them what craft supply they need most, about three-quarters of the time they’ll say glitter. Or glitter paint. Or glitter glue. Sometimes I feel like I live inside a disco ball. Sparkle, sparkle!

4. Storage space. Glitter is just the beginning. Fiona and Bridget have multiple lotions and perfumes. They have about fifty pairs of earrings, and multiple necklaces and bracelets to match. They’ve got bath stuff and hair stuff and face stuff and nail stuff – 24 different shades of nail polish, to be exact. (And before you conclude that Ryan and I are raising shopaholic princesses who spend a good chunk of their time and all of their money in pursuit of retail therapy, please note that not a single bottle of nail polish was purchased by either of them. They are two of just three grandchildren on either side of the family (and their baby cousin, Scarlett, is still too young to do anything with cosmetics aside from eating them). They have fashionable aunties. Nail polish is a popular item in loot bags, and they go to alot of birthday parties. Doesn’t take long to get to double-digits bottles.) Along with nail polish, they each have nearly a dozen lip glosses. They’ve got several pairs of shoes and boots each, and a pile of hats, scarves and belts. My stuff is crowded out, smothered, consumed by their stuff. They’ve got a menagerie of stuffies. They keep everything because everything is so special. More tissues, please. They have valentines they received in kindergarten from children they wouldn’t know from a hole in the ground anymore. They have sparkly rocks and pinecones and lucky buttons – and, thanks to Ryan and their Uncle D, a growing collection of beer caps. They have over a dozen Barbies and Monster High Dolls, and all the things that go with them. Their bookshelves are literally overflowing with books they might never read again but they have to keep them because ….

5. Hair junk. Between Fiona and Bridget (and me, of course), there’s alot of hair in this house. Hair clogs up our vacuum cleaner. It clings to the furniture. It lands in our food. Tumbleweeds of old hair blow by when we open a window. It needs to be contained. This isn’t easy when styles change regularly, and you’re dealing with 8-and-10-year-old girls who change even more often than styles. Headbands, bandanas, scrunchies, bun donuts, butterfly clips, barrettes and bobby pins must all be available in every possible size and colour to answer to any hair situation at all times. We have brushes, combs and rakes. We’ve also got hairspray (in plain, blue, pink and – natch – glitter), and we’ve got hair wax for the newly-embraced-at-our-place side bang. We’ve got mousse, and curl-lock, too. There’s colour cream in purple and green, and hair chalk in ten different shades. At the end of it all, we’ve got de-tangler. You might need that if you’ve used even a fraction of our cornucopia of hair junk.

6. Nail polish remover. As mentioned above, we’ve got two dozen bottles of nail polish. In addition to that, we have nail stickers and – of course – nail glitter. Bridget paints her nails every two or three days. On a related note, she smudges her freshly painted nails on everything every two or three days. In a striking coincidence, she uses copious amounts of nail polish remover – you guessed it – every two or three days. Because she is trying to be delicate with her still-sticky nails, she handles the nail polish remover gingerly – and the lack of a firm grip results in frequent spills. She uses whatever remains in the bottle to clean up the smudges. I buy an econo-sized bottle of nail polish remover about once per month. I’m high from the smell of it about five days out of every seven. Fiona never really cared for painting her nails until about a week ago. Now she has lovely midnight blue nails, and she likes them that way. I may soon need a nail polish remover pipe run into my house, topped up every couple of months by a truck, like we used to do with oil for our furnace.

7. Self-confidence (at least, if you are their mother). For one thing, daughters are blunt. You are an extension of them, a piece of their life cycle. They see you as both their example and their cautionary tale. I knew that it was time to start working out again when they told me my ass wobbled when I walked. I know when my hairstyle or outfit isn’t working for me, because they let me know. They ask me when I’m going to paint my nails again because the old polish is chipped. One morning, Bridget fearfully asked if I was going to wear that when I picked them up from school the following afternoon. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, nothing wrong with that, but my hair was in a messy bun and I wasn’t wearing earrings – it just wouldn’t do. On the other hand, they still say things like “she was pretty, Mommy, but not as pretty as you” and “I hope I look just like you when I grow up” and “I love your style”. I guess I do have my moments …. The main reason, though, that you need self-confidence if you are the mother of daughters is that they are so perfect. Their eyes are clear and bright, their smile is doll-like in its perfection, their hair has highlights that every woman over the age of 19 has to squeeze out of a bottle and apply every four to six weeks. They havn’t mangled their eyebrows yet, like we all somehow end up doing in spite of the warnings of our mothers. Their skin is flawless and golden, stretched tight over their muscles and bones as smooth as a clear sky. They are all legs and arms and ponytails. I’ve got crow’s feet and laugh lines and grey hair. I’ve got a jiggle in my wiggle that’s probably never going away, and I wear the indentations of my pillow and pyjamas for a good hour after I wake up. Their sun is rising; mine is inching toward the horizon.

I imagine there’s alot more Ryan and I need that I havn’t thought of, and things I don’t know we’ll need as they grow up. I look forward to hearing from other parents of multiple girls, and learning as I go. Don’t make the stories too sappy, though. We’re perilously low on tissues here. We’re one botched craft or serving of asparagus away from running out.

Having talent doesn’t make you a role model. Nor should it.

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People who know me well will be very surprised that I’m including baseball in today’s blog post – because, honestly, I’m so over baseball. True, I’ve enjoyed attending games during our various road trips – but that’s mainly due to the exciting atmosphere of a ball park. Oh, and the hotdogs and cotton candy. The game itself kinda bores me, and people talking about it is even more tiresome. This normally isn’t a problem. My girlfriends usually don’t talk sports, and the men in my life know enough to limit it to one or two sentences when they just can’t control themselves. Now that the Toronto Blue Jays are on a dream dash in the direction of the World Series, however, I can’t escape the game or the talk, and it’s driving me crazy. (This dark confession could lead to calls for the revocation of my Canadian citizenship, but I’ll take that risk for the sake of this blog post.)

Yesterday morning, Ryan and I were sitting in the parking lot, avoiding the trek to the office by listening to a couple of guys mumbling on the radio. Ok, so Ryan probably heard them talking about sports, as it was TSN 1200 Ottawa – but I the sound I heard resembled Charlie Brown’s teacher. I perked up when I heard a voice complaining about José Bautista’s now-famous celebratory bat toss. This act has attracted pearl-clutching from a few directions, including whoever-it-was I heard whining through our car speakers. According to the haters, Bautista flipping that bat was cocky, tacky and dangerous. Personally, I don’t see it as a big deal. So it was a little reckless …. However, the man is a member of a team that just knocked out another team 6-3 on their way to the World Series. His entire country is cheering for him. This may just be the dizzy peak of his baseball career, and it is something all the little Jays fans of today will grow up talking about. In a moment like that, you don’t look around to see who might get clipped by your jazz hands – you freak out!

Justification aside, what really steams my broccoli is all the talk of role models. “Little kids who play baseball want to grow up to be just like José Bautista. What are they supposed to think of his behaviour? Blah, blah, blah …. he is a role model.”  (The last two words are spoken at a volume only dogs can hear, with the regard typically reserved for Jesus, Mother Theresa and people’s grandmothers.) The problem is that he’s not a role model. He’s just a guy who’s really good at baseball. All pro sports people are exactly that: people who are good enough at their game to make a living playing it. Pop stars are just people who are (in most cases) marginally good at singing and dancing, and may know how to play an instrument passably.  Actors are just …. well, actors. Politicians are …. um, does anyone really know what politicians are? Anyway, you get my drift. People in the public eye are not there because they boast outstanding character. They are there because they are famous, and they are famous because at some point they’ve outperformed somebody at something.

Fiona and Bridget are ten and eight. They are both big fans of pop music. This means they listen to material of varied quality by people of questionable quality. Sometimes, these people behave very badly. This doesn’t bother me at all. Why? Because they are pop stars, not priests or teachers or childcare providers. If they do something that requires a side-eye, we give it to them, and then we talk about it. Fiona and Bridget know that stars are only human, and that their music is what they offer – nothing more. Parents are in charge of the message and how it is received. Calling someone a role model just because they’ve become famous is silly, and unfair to a person who’s just living their life. Raise your own kids, and be a role model yourself. Let stars live their lives as they please.

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.

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!