February 3, 2017

Every other week I drive my daughter and three other kids from their school to an afternoon program at another local school. At the beginning of the year I didn’t really know the other three kids very well.

Over the past months I’ve come to realize what great kids they are. Ranging in age from nine to eleven, one might expect them to be, well, kids. And they are,  but they are also engaged, talkative inquisitive and grateful for me driving them each week.

The drive is only about five minutes. Today we talked about how to successfully navigate slippery roads. The merits of snow tires and why busses aren’t necessarily built for snowy days like today. One boy was pretty specific about the tire size to bus length ratio not being conducive to good traction.

Then we talked about skiing versus snowboarding and it was generally agreed that snowboarding was fun but that you needed to practice more than once a year to be any good. Astute observations.

And when I say we talked I mean we ALL talked.

When we arrive at our destination they all (without exception) thanked me for the ride and headed into the school.

Happy good kids. The Best Thing in Life.

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When I Was Your Age

snow

We all know that times have changed.  It is no longer normal, or sometimes even possible,  for kids to walk 10 miles to school, in the snow, uphill, both ways.  Yet we’ve all done it.  When our kids are whining about some insignificant first world problem that could mean the end of their world we’ve pulled out the “when I was your age” story.

Say perhaps the Japanese restaurant that we are ordering dinner from online is *gasp* out of ahi tuna.  We might say….when I was your age we ate whatever grandma put on the table and we liked it.

Or…..when we wanted to talk to our friends we went into the kitchen and called them on the phone.  That was attached to the wall.  And if they weren’t home we called back.  Because nobody had voice mail. And no, we couldn’t just text them.

Or….when we wanted to see a movie we took the bus to the theatre.  If the movie we wanted to see was no longer playing?  We were out of luck.  Yes, there was only one theatre, not eight.  No, Netflix was not a thing back then.

Or….when we had a research paper to write we had three options.  Got to the library and look up the book on the little cards in the file drawers.  Use the Encyclopedia Britannica that lined the walls of our dad’s study.  Find a Time magazine in the magazine rack that had something relevant in it.  Yes, that’s right.  Books.  Made of paper.

But then last weekend my daughter had the opportunity to dance in the West Vancouver Days celebration.  As we drove down the hill towards Ambleside I remembered when I was nine and had participated in the May Day Parade.  (The 1973 equivalent of West Van Days.). I found myself saying….. “when  I was your age”.  But this time it was different.

When I danced at Ambleside I wore a dress my mom had made for me.  Apparently in 1973 pink eyelet, high collars and long sleeves leg-o-mutton sleeves were all the rage.  I loved it!

may day dress
Olivia in my May Day dress

When we performed our special May Day for the May Queen and her court we did it on the grass and not on a stage.  The West Van Marching Band played our music and we had ribbons and everybody stopped and watched.

When the festivities were over we went for ice cream at Dairy Queen.  (Yes, they had Dairy Queen back then). Granny let me have a root beer float.

froyo
Olivia getting froyo after her dance

Yes, thing are different and sometime the “when I was your age” story gives our kids some perspective.  But it doesn’t have to be a “my life was harder than yours” kind of thing.  It can be a “we are both so lucky” kind of thing.

Sometimes the Best Thing in Life is watching your kids have the same amazing experiences you had.  Only different.

That’s Not Me

scary little monster

Do you ever see friends (or strangers) doing stuff and think.  “Why don’t I do that?”

I do.

It’s a bad habit but one that seems to just creep into my mind every so often.  It’s really part of the whole “grass is always greener” syndrome.  No matter what you do there is always going to be something that someone else is doing that you aren’t.

Don’t get me wrong, my life is good, it’s just that a small ugly part of my brain occasionally gets out of its cage and starts telling me I could do better.  Do more.

Who could bring that ugly part out you ask?  There are a few I can think of.

The Adventurer – this is the friend that is always just back from some incredible adventure.  Backpacking through the Costa Rican jungle.  Spending nights in grass huts and eating bugs.  Back county snowshoeing in Alberta…..with her three kids (one in a baby backpack) and husband.  It seems that they are capable of carrying on a regular life punctuated by these incredible, life altering adventures in exotic lands without batting an eye.

     That’s just not me.

The Business Maven – savvy and well connected, this friend has a constant stream of lucrative opportunities rolling around in her head.  None seems to require a full time commitment but always create an income.  I know that it takes some money to create these opportunities but somehow that isn’t an issue.  Admirable in that it takes guts to jump off the cliff into a business and actually make it work or accept its failure and move on.

     That’s just not me.

The Crafty Baker – with an account at Michaels this friend actually uses the coupons they hand out at the cashier.  Pinterest Fail is not in her vocabulary.  Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter are all just waiting for her to create some delicious and awe inspiring cookie that my daughter will talk about for days on end.  Able to create a full dolls wardrobe out of raffia and felt, they enjoy a quiet afternoon at home to create and sew.

     That’s just not me.

The Fashionista – impeccably and always appropriately dressed.  Wether it’s for a morning on the soccer field or a night out at a fundraiser, this friend has her finger in the pulse of what’s fashionable.  But, and here’s the kicker, it always looks effortless. Like she just threw something on at the last minute to run out the grocery store.  No mommy jeans on this one.  And it’s been my experience that these outfits are accompanied by perfectly coiffed hair despite the regular North Vancouver downpours.

     That’s just not me.

The PAC President – committed to our kid’s school and its programs with a never ending supply of energy and ideas for fundraising and improving classrooms.  Willing to give her time to any cause that helps the school.  Willing to sit through PAC meetings.  Every month.  Ugh.  This mom knows what is going on in every classroom and is always politically correct when discussing school business and other people’s kids.

     That’s just not me.

There are more but these ones seem to stick out in my mind.

So what is me? 

Me is a fear of flying, cookie burning, fashion challenged, business commitment scaredy cat, classroom averse blog writer.

The Best Thing in Life is being able to tell that ugly part of my brain to go suck it because I’m just fine the way I am.

 

Being Kind

As she parked in the parking lot the nerves started to grow. She hadn’t seen some of these people in years. Would they even know who she was? Would she recognize anybody? The receptionist directed her upstairs to the banquet rooms. She made a quick stop in the bathroom to check her hair and makeup. Did she really need to impress anybody? She was happily married with two great kids and a loving husband. Old habits die hard she told herself. When she finally made her way to the room where her twentieth high school reunion was being held, her nerves seemed to disappear and all she felt was excitement.

At the door to the banquet room there was a table covered in name tags and a dark haired woman was bent over putting them in order. She looked up suddenly and squealed. “Oh my god it’s so great to see you. How are you? You look great. Here, I have your name tag. Wow, it’s been so long but you look just the same. I would know that smile anywhere.” As the greeter rattled on she thought “She has no idea who I am.” You could have knocked her over with a feather. She stood before the table smiling and nodding and remembering. The greeter looked just the same too. She would never forget her. Not after that day so many years ago.

It was grade five and she was in Mr. McBride’s class at West Bay Elementary School. She had been outside at lunch playing dodge ball in the courtyard with a bunch of other kids. A silly school yard game but hey, she was in grade five and that’s what they did at lunch time. When the bell rang she ran up the stairs past the library and janitors room to her classroom. As she entered the room she saw one of her girlfriends and said hi. Her friend looked at her, but then quickly looked away and whispered something to the girl beside her. That’s a bit weird, she thought and took her seat. During the rest of the afternoon she caught them whispering a few more times. She even noticed them whispering to another friend as they came back from art class. Hm, wonder what’s up? She thought.

The afternoon dragged on forever but when the bell finally rang she grabbed her bag and coat and headed for the door. “Forgetting something?” Darn, she had forgotten that Mr. McBride had asked her to stay and go over her multiplication tables. She really needed to know what was going in with her friends so she told a small lie and said that she forgot she had piano that day. “Okay, but tomorrow for sure?” Sure, she said, and turned away quickly, feeling guilty. She burst out the door and ran straight into a group of her friends. “Hey, what’s up? What is everybody whispering about?” They all turned to look at her but only one person spoke. “You. We’re talking about you.” The dark haired girl said. Me, why would they be talking about me she wondered? “We’re all really sick of how immature you are. We saw you today on the playground jumping around like a preschooler. What is wrong with you?”

She looked around at the group of fourth grade girls now surrounding her. Some of them looked away, some of them looked at the girl speaking and some looked back at her blankly. Acting immature? She had been playing dodgeball? She stammered trying to find the words to explain what she had done. What she had done? She hadn’t DONE anything. What was going on? She looked at each of them for some kind of explanation. Her face was suddenly hot and her hands were shaking. She turned away and ran towards the bathrooms. She stayed in one of the stalls for what seemed like hours. When she finally ventured out the halls were quiet and empty. She walked home that day feeling hurt, embarrassed and confused.

It was all flooding back as she stood there at the entrance to the banquet room. It was years ago, but at this moment it seemed like just yesterday. The greeter apparently didn’t remember, as she had already moved on to the next person coming down the hall. It hadn’t happened again after that day but she would never forget the hurtful words directed at her. The embarrassment of being singled out and that the dark haired girl had, for that moment, turned her friends against her. She would never know why and it truly didn’t matter. The damage was done with just a few words in only a matter of moments. As she stepped into the room full of her school friends she reminded herself that The Best Thing in Life is to teach your kids to be kind.

A Good Dose of Reality….and sarcasm….lots of sarcasm

reality

Every year a friend of mine and a team of other women put together an online store to raise funds for a needy family.  They ask for and receive donations of crafts, baking, gifts, candles, gift certificates and jewelry and then sell them through a private on-line “store”.  It is a great way to get into the spirit of the season and give back to some people who really need it.  People who are struggling financially and perhaps emotionally.

This year we are the needy family.  I would like to take a few minutes to tell you why we are struggling.  Here goes.

In August my husband and I made the decision to cancel our planned two-week Christmas vacation in Hawaii.  His work contract would be ending in December and while we had no reason to think he wouldn’t get another contract, we both felt it was the financially responsible thing to do.  Still, it was a dark day when I emailed the agent and told her to cancel our condo reservations and the flights we had booked on points.  I was the one who had to tell the kids that despite just spending three weeks in Southern California we would not be flying to Maui in December.  They were real troopers.

It’s been almost eighteen months since I quit my job.  It did take me a few months to get used to being at home during the day while our daughter was at school, but I think I adjusted well.  Yoga had never really been my thing but I learnt to embrace it as it helped stretch out the muscles I was now stressing on longer daily runs in the woods with my friends.  Now that my husband isn’t traveling as much there really isn’t any reason for me not to return to work.  I’m going to have to adjust my running schedule and won’t be able to help out at school hot lunch days but I know it needs to be done.  My yoga instructor will miss me, but I’m sure with some serious meditation she will be okay.

Public transit may well become a part of our future.  One of our SUVs has decided that it is tired and after fifteen years it has become…..temperamental.  So that leaves us with just the one truck.  My husband has been great about walking the half mile up to Starbucks in the mornings to get his morning mocha and we have been able to coordinate our schedules so that when he needs to get to the gym I can go with him and get the shopping done.  Fortunately Whole Food is only a few block away.  We have been researching bus route on our iPads and we think we can make it work.  Have you ever looked at a bus schedule though?  Super confusing.

Earlier this summer we had the kids bathroom renovated.  It had been stuck in the eighties and was looking a little um…..yellow.  A friend of ours helped out with the design and after a month or so my vision became reality.  But now the other two bathrooms in our house look a little shabby.  I’ve been forced to take my bath in their bathroom as the tub is deeper and well, the floor is heated.  Our bathroom does not have radiant heating.  Or a toilet seat that closes itself.  Or drawers that hold plush towels.  It’s sad really.  Doesn’t everyone deserve a nice bathroom?

So there you have it.  It’s been a rough couple of months but we are staying strong and hoping that with a little help we will see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Or maybe a Hawaiian sunset.

The Best Thing in Life is a good dose of reality.

Miss Sam

dance-teacher

If you are very lucky in life, you get to combine two things that you are passionate about into a long term career that you can do anywhere in the world and can easily fit into an already busy family schedule.  This is my dream.  This is my friend Sam’s reality.

And the kicker is that it is such a beautiful thing that she does.  Sam is a dancer who took her love of dance and married it with a strong desire to teach and voila, she became a dance teacher.  Yup I’m going to admit this up front.  I am incredibly jealous.  If she wasn’t such a lovely person I could maybe hate her for having not one, but two, clear passions in her life.  And a supportive husband and three great kids.  Wow, maybe I should hate her.

Sam started dancing at a very young age in Scotland. She started with ballet then highland dancing then added tap and eventually jazz. She danced right through until she was 17 competing in highland dance and completing her RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) exams in ballet.  When she finished school she was thinking about becoming a teacher but she still found it hard to move away from dance and ended up doing a three year dance program in her home town of Edinburgh.

As we walked in the beautiful fall sunshine, with her sweet little dog Dougal, she told me how she trained in Edinburgh and eventually auditioned in London for a job dancing with the Princess Cruise Lines.  Although she still wanted to become a teacher, this opportunity was not one to turn down.  Being paid for doing what she loved and seeing the world at the same time.  Who wouldn’t?

FYI-none of these pictures are actually of Sam

cruise ship dancers

So this shy girl from Edinburg took a plane from London to LA and started training for work on the cruise ship line.  She worked for them for a number of years, eventually meeting her husband and making life long friends along the way.  Although she loved the work, when an opportunity came up back in Edinburgh for her to get her teaching degree she took it.  She was able to go to school during the winter and continue working on the ship in the summer.

I’m starting to think that this women may have a fairy godmother in her back pocket. And yes I’m still jealous.

For the next ten years she taught primary school, ran her own dance school and had three kids.  That would have continued had her husband’s job not brought her and her family here to Vancouver.  And that’s where we met.

Sam, or Miss Sam as the girls call her, is teaching my daughter ballet this year and I couldn’t be happier. When I asked my daughter how her first class with her was she said “Great, but Miss Sam is pretty strict”. Yes, I thought, that’s perfect.  I know that being a good dancer does not guarantee that you will be a good dance teacher but I sense that her approach will work well with my girl.

“Everybody, every child, learns differently and so the way you teach them needs to be different too”.

I came away thinking how incredibly lucky she was to have been able to take her loves and this great approach to teaching and have something she will be able to do for years.  But then, as it usually does, it came to me. Wow, she is a good teacher,because I just learnt something.  The Best Thing in Life is not to be jealous of somebody else’s life but to learn from them and admire their passion.

TBT – Private School

Yes, I went to a girls private school. Before you go thinking that I come from privilege and all that, I have to tell you how it came to be.

crofton (2)
One night in a bar in Revelstoke (a small mill town in Central BC) my dad was having drinks with a client who worked for an up and coming logging company. While I’m sure my dad was not completely sober, his client was, from all accounts, three sheets to the wind. Nobody’s sure why (or they’re not saying) but the client decided to give my dad an envelope with a fairly substantial pile of company stock in it. In the coming months the company boomed and voila, we all got sent to private school.

Contrary to popular belief not all girls are sent to private school because they are rebellious hellions. Sure, some are, but….well that’s another story. I was just entering grade nine and I hated it! For the first few weeks I would come home every day and cry. By the start of October my mom said that if I still hated it at Christmas time that I could go back to my old school. Four years later I graduated from Crofton House School for Girls.

It had everything a good private girls school should have. Tartan skirts, navy blazers, ivy covered walls, bad boarding house food and a stern Head Mistress.

Her name was Miss Addison but she was affectionately known as AD. Looking back, she wasn’t really that bad, but in the moment, she was terrifying. I remember one weekend my girlfriend, who was a boarder (she lived at the school) was staying with me and we went to a party together. The party was awesome and she went back to the school on Sunday evening. Monday morning we both got called to the headmistress office. Somehow she had found out that we had not only gone to the party but had been driven by a friend of mine and not my parents. A big no-no for a boarder. How she found out we never knew but we got a stern talking to and were shaking in our Oxfords by the time we left.

The ivy covered walls that surrounded the ten acres of grounds served to not only keep us in, but to keep others out. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. For example, there was the time that a dozen barely dressed grade twelve boys from Point Grey High School found their way into our morning prayer assembly. I can’t imagine why my parents disapproved of me dating one of them?

crofton girls (2)

That’s me, second from the left in the middle

With only 49 girls in my graduating class we were all pretty close. Sure there were cliques and the obligatory hierarchy of popular girls, but at the end of the day we all participated in school pranks and went to the same parties. And let me tell you, private school girls can party. If parents were sending their daughter to Crofton to get them away from drugs, sex and alcohol they were making a huge mistake. HUGE.

I often get asked if I feel that a private school education was worth it. For somebody like me? Yes. I was an average student who really didn’t care much about school or grades, but at private school I was forced to work harder. There was no coasting through. You worked hard or you dealt with the consequences. For me, the most important part of a private school education was not the grades or the college prep. What Crofton House taught me was how to be a better person. Okay, so maybe being able to eat grapes with a fork and spoon (thank you etiquette class) isn’t a valuable life skill, but being able to speak in public and respect authority, among other things, has served me well.

I have so many incredible memories (and some blackmail worthy photos) from my four years at Crofton House. Girlfriends that I get together with after over thirty years and still laugh at the things we did. The school itself has changed quite a bit but the motto has not. Sevabo Fidem. Keep the Faith.

Oh My God I’m An 18 Year Old Boy!

Me and Everett June 2104

In my ongoing search for my “thing” in life I have come to a startling realization. I am way more like my eighteen year old son than I ever thought. Last June he graduated from high school and has spent the past nine months working. He has three jobs right now, all in different fields. He got all three jobs on his own and has been incredibly responsible in keeping track of his schedule and being on time. Mostly. He is not sure, however, of his next steps. He has looked at some university programs but isn’t 100% committed. I left my job a year ago and have spent the last twelve months keeping track of my traveling husband and my active seven-year old. Oh, and writing this blog. Where are the next few years going to take me? I don’t really know, but I do feel a need to find something to set my sights on.

So, how are we alike?

1. We both feel, deep down, that we have some unique, creative thing to offer the world but we just don’t know what it is or how to get it out there. While writing this blog has been great and I continue to enjoy the process and the opportunity it has given me to reconnect with old friends, I can’t help but feel unsure of where I am heading with it. My son had thought that he might pursue a career in video game design and animation. He took a number of courses in high school and looked at continuing that into college. As its turns out, it is really more of an interest than something he felt he wanted do as a career. I think that this was largely because he is not a strong drawer. Being creative means being judged subjectively and we are both wary of that.

2.  We both gravitate towards things that offer us instant (or close to it) gratification. Probably why I never went back to school. I have, for many years, berated my poor son on his ability to sit at the computer for hours playing video games. Not the shoot ’em up kind but the multi player on-line battles like Defense of the Ancients. (go look it up) When I asked him why he loves them so much he said it was because they gave him instant gratification. Honestly, I rolled my eyes and sighed but I am now slightly embarrassed to say that I get it. I think that I too look for things in my life that give me regular reinforcement and encouraging pats on the back. I think it’s why I enjoy running so much. I can do it and instantly know exactly how far and fast I have gone. If we can’t see the goal we lose sight of the meaning.

3.  We are social but not social butterflies. I love a good party and feel that friends are an immensely important part of anybody’s life. I am also quite comfortable being alone and have been known to pass on social invitations in favor of my jammies. While my jammies are comfortable and all, I have been burnt and some times I use them as an excuse to close myself off a bit. My son has never had a large circle of friends and I often felt that he needed to be more assertive in going out and creating relationships. Now I see that he is also okay being on his own. In the past few months, through his new jobs, he has developed some friendships which is great. But I also see him holding back a bit. Not wanting to dive in too deep. Just in case.

4.  We are more than willing to work hard so long as what we need to do is clearly mapped out in front of us. Or organized. Love a well-organized project. You tell me what to do and I will work my ass off until it is done. Conversely, If I don’t have a set plan I tend to wander off and end up being unproductive. The past year has shown me that in spades. If I am being 100% honest with this I need to say that for my part,this is probably due to a of lack of confidence. In high school if my son had a project assigned to him he tended to leave it until the last-minute and then panic. Not because he didn’t want to do the work but because he often didn’t know how to get started. He is, however, happily holding down three jobs with not one complaint. In fact he has never been happier to be told what to do and get paid for it.

As I read this back to myself some things become clearer while other are still unresolved. Have I managed to make it to fifty without ever really growing up? How can I expect him to know where he is going when I don’t? Have I done enough to foster a feeling of confidence in my son?

How can I move past what is holding me back and in turn show him the way?

The Best Thing in Life is that learning never ends.

Being Kind

As she parked in the parking lot the nerves started to grow. She hadn’t seen some of these people in years. Would they even know who she was? Would she recognize anybody? The receptionist directed her upstairs to the banquet rooms. She made a quick stop in the bathroom to check her hair and makeup. Did she really need to impress anybody? She was happily married with two great kids and a loving husband. Old habits die hard she told herself. When she finally made her way to the room where her twentieth high school reunion was being held, her nerves seemed to disappear and all she felt was excitement.

At the door to the banquet room there was a table covered in name tags and a dark haired woman was bent over putting them in order. She looked up suddenly and squealed. “Oh my god it’s so great to see you. How are you? You look great. Here, I have your name tag. Wow, it’s been so long but you look just the same. I would know that smile anywhere.” As the greeter rattled on she thought “She has no idea who I am.” You could have knocked her over with a feather. She stood before the table smiling and nodding and remembering. The greeter looked just the same too. She would never forget her. Not after that day so many years ago.

It was grade five and she was in Mr. McBride’s class at West Bay Elementary School. She had been outside at lunch playing dodge ball in the courtyard with a bunch of other kids. A silly school yard game but hey, she was in grade five and that’s what they did at lunch time. When the bell rang she ran up the stairs past the library and janitors room to her classroom. As she entered the room she saw one of her girlfriends and said hi. Her friend looked at her, but then quickly looked away and whispered something to the girl beside her. That’s a bit weird, she thought and took her seat. During the rest of the afternoon she caught them whispering a few more times. She even noticed them whispering to another friend as they came back from art class. Hm, wonder what’s up? She thought.

The afternoon dragged on forever but when the bell finally rang she grabbed her bag and coat and headed for the door. “Forgetting something?” Darn, she had forgotten that Mr. McBride had asked her to stay and go over her multiplication tables. She really needed to know what was going in with her friends so she told a small lie and said that she forgot she had piano that day. “Okay, but tomorrow for sure?” Sure, she said, and turned away quickly, feeling guilty. She burst out the door and ran straight into a group of her friends. “Hey, what’s up? What is everybody whispering about?” They all turned to look at her but only one person spoke. “You. We’re talking about you.” The dark haired girl said. Me, why would they be talking about me she wondered? “We’re all really sick of how immature you are. We saw you today on the playground jumping around like a preschooler. What is wrong with you?”

She looked around at the group of fourth grade girls now surrounding her. Some of them looked away, some of them looked at the girl speaking and some looked back at her blankly. Acting immature? She had been playing dodgeball? She stammered trying to find the words to explain what she had done. What she had done? She hadn’t DONE anything. What was going on? She looked at each of them for some kind of explanation. Her face was suddenly hot and her hands were shaking. She turned away and ran towards the bathrooms. She stayed in one of the stalls for what seemed like hours. When she finally ventured out the halls were quiet and empty. She walked home that day feeling hurt, embarrassed and confused.

It was all flooding back as she stood there at the entrance to the banquet room. It was years ago, but at this moment it seemed like just yesterday. The greeter apparently didn’t remember, as she had already moved on to the next person coming down the hall. It hadn’t happened again after that day but she would never forget the hurtful words directed at her. The embarrassment of being singled out and that the dark haired girl had, for that moment, turned her friends against her. She would never know why and it truly didn’t matter. The damage was done with just a few words in only a matter of moments. As she stepped into the room full of her school friends she reminded herself that The Best Thing in Life is to teach your kids to be kind.