Tuesday, June 22, 2010

read my latest column at the Record here.

or here:

Our children’s preferences as different as the seasons

As our family excitedly anticipates summer holidays, I wonder if the time of year we first entered the world helps to determine our future preferences. Although both my kids absolutely love summer, my oldest (who was born during a snowstorm and prefers winter) took a little longer to develop his fondness for one common activity of our warmest season.

What my kids love most about this time of year are the non-stop opportunities to be outside and especially, swimming. Both of their first summers included dipping their tiny toes into a clear, natural lake ... with polar opposite reactions. The “win-fint” who loves the winter, was distressed, while the “spr-aby” who made her entrance on the first day of spring, was delighted.

At 14, Nick swims like a fish. He loves to dip, flip, dive, spin, toss and be tossed into whatever body of water happens to be in front of him. Whether it’s a pool or lake, the temperature — though it does determine how quickly he gets in — doesn’t deter him, as he flaps around like Aquaman, completely at home in whatever wet wonderland he is plunging into at the time.
However, his first exposure to summer swimming did not at all suggest that he would appreciate it like he does now.

It was a beautiful summer day as I stood knee deep in the water, holding my six-month-old baby, playfully lowering him toward the surface. Alarmed, he frantically tucked his little legs up as far up as was physically possible, and the look on his face was one of great fear and indignation as first his toes, then feet, then knees became submerged. This wide-eyed child was clearly shocked and dismayed that his parents, whom he had grown to love and trust, would subject him to such aquatic anguish.

His reaction shouldn’t have been a surprise, given the intensity with which he hated the bath as a new baby. He would scream, thrash, and turn an angry shade of purple, even though we took great care to ensure that the water condition was suitably baby-friendly, so as not to overheat our child, or plunge him into the frigid waters of the Fisher-Price tub of torture.

Early in our March baby’s life, we discovered that when inconsolable, Elena could be immediately soothed by the bath. Each clenched, flailing limb would relax as the water surrounded her, and she’d breathe a visible and audible sigh of relief. For Elena, a bath was all it took to make everything well with the world. During her fussiest times, it was not uncommon for one of us parents to throw our arms in the air, and yell above the crying, “OK, OK, I’ll get the tub!” (I remember reading about weaning a baby off of a pacifier, but worried that I could find no information about tub dependence!)

Now at age 11, she still loves the water. She’ll swim anywhere, any time, even in cottage country in (shiver) May. Her introduction to lake water was entirely different from Nick’s. She giggled, splashed and struggled to be released from my grasp. We dipped, dunked and dallied ... and eventually, much to her dismay, departed. Her screams pierced the air as she lunged for the lake with outstretched arms while being carried away.

Like most kids, mine find many wonderful things about every Canadian season. I do find it fishy though, that the kid who was born in a snowstorm, speaks fondly and longingly about the winter during what is, without question, the most wonderful season of all ... so says the July baby.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

originally published in the Waterloo Region Record, June 2010.

If my family lived in sub-Saharan Africa, the chances are pretty good that there would be fewer of us than there are living here in Southwestern Ontario.

In fact, not only would we have fewer family members, but the family configuration would be almost unrecognizable in our society.

Because if we did live in sub-Saharan Africa, my mother would probably be raising my two children…and that’s if both were still alive, which is unlikely because, of the 13 million AIDS orphans in those countries alone, half die before the age of two.

As for me, the reason my mom would be raising my kids is that practically my entire generation in African countries like Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe has died in the AIDS pandemic.

But, as luck would have it, mine are healthy and thriving Canadian children who have just about everything they could ever ask for, and most certainly, everything they “need.” Again, this is not the case for children in many African countries. Before AIDS orphans can thrive, they need to survive.

The “Grandmothers to Grandmothers” campaign involves Canadian grandmothers and “grand-others” who support the millions of African grandmothers who have watched their own children die of AIDS, and are now raising their grandchildren, many of whom are also infected.

On June 12, Grandmother groups across Canada, including Kitchener-Waterloo’s Omas Siskona (grandmothers together) and Mama KubWas, will “Stride to Turn the Tide” on HIV/AIDS in Africa. By walking, Canadian grandmothers will show solidarity with African grandmothers and raise money and awareness of their situation.

Three generations of my family will walk, and we will savour the opportunity to spend part of the day outside, together. We’ll wear our hats and sunscreen, and will worry about little else but arriving on time to a minor sporting activity later in the day.

When African grandmothers walk, it is out of the necessity to find food, water and firewood so that their families can survive. For them, walking is work, not pleasure or exercise.

But, regardless of an unfathomable discrepancy in resources, there are ways in which African grandmothers are absolutely the same as Canadian grandmothers: both are fiercely committed to doing what’s best for their grandchildren.

Both also know that in order to Turn the Tide of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa, affordable antiretroviral drugs and free education for their grandchildren are needed to help break the cycle of poverty.

The walk on June 12 will also serve as a reminder of Canada’s humanitarian promise to provide affordable, generic life-saving drugs under legislation known as Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), which requires the passing of Bill C-393.

As well, the walk will encourage support for Education for All, which states, among other things, that education is a fundamental human right, and a means by which developing countries can achieve sustainable development and stability.

According to Stephen Lewis, the former UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, and the inspiration behind the Canadian Grandmothers’ efforts, more than half a million children die of AIDS every year, “simply because the world imposes such an obscene division between rich and poor.”

I find myself struck by these poignant words which are so entirely simple and yet, inconceivably complicated.

And if you’re reading this, as I am while writing it, with a coffee in your hand and your children safe at school, you probably feel very much the same way as I do…lucky.

Walkers are invited to join the Grandmothers on Saturday, June 12 at Waterloo Park Area 1 at 9:30 a.m. Learn more about their campaign and the Stephen Lewis Foundation at www.grandmotherscampaign.org/

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

originally published in the Waterloo Region Record, May 2010.

It seems that my tastes in wine and humour are similar: I enjoy each when mature and complex, but I am not above indulging in the unsophisticated and not entirely savoury. As the mother of a 14 and 11-year old, I occasionally partake in both.

During their early days, the type of humour that my kids engaged in consisted mostly of gut-busting laughter when a cup fell to the floor from a high chair, or a toy was tossed out of the crib.

Later, we endured countless knock knock jokes, non-stop bathroom humour, and many gags during which the parent answers a question, and the child announces, through uncontrollable fits of laughter, “Ha! It’s opposite day!”

As my kids get older, the mingling of their increasingly sophisticated thought processes with good taste has, thankfully, become more deliberate and refined. Unfortunately, though, they don’t always aim to hit the mark, opting instead for a type of humour that might be referred to as comically dysfunctional.

As the butt (haha, I said butt!) of many of their jokes, I am generally a pushover for what they dish out. Apparently, I am also a glutton for punishment, since I really do understand and (somewhat) appreciate the enjoyment the kids get out of pulling one over on the adults.

An example of my 14-year-old son’s current type of comedy is an announcement late on a Sunday night that he has homework. I’ll have been led to believe that he’d either completed said homework, or that he didn’t have any to begin with. Every time – the story always changes, but not the method of torment - he still gets me. As my eyes widen and I begin to carefully choose my words and measure my reaction, his face will slowly begin to crack a sly smile. “Just kidding!”

My daughter also thinks she’s pretty funny…which is actually a question I regularly pose to her. “You think you’re pretty funny, don’t you?” In fact, I ask this of both the children, and instead of replying, “Sorry, Mom,” with heads hung in shame, I am subjected to echoing guffaws, peppered by, “That was so funny” and, “You should have seen your face!”

This 11-year-old tyrant has a knack for jumping out from the least expected places, at the least expected times, startling me into emitting high pitched, barely- human noises, accompanied by contorted facial expressions. She lurks, ready to spring and shout, “Boo!” sending my near-resting heart rate skyrocketing. She then gleefully mimics the look on my face and, as I recover and my beats-per-minute resume normal levels, she dashes off to find her father and brother, who give her high fives as she re-enacts her ugly tale.

My son had a new teacher transfer to his class in February, and one evening she called our home, explaining that she wanted to become acquainted with her students’ parents. We briefly discussed how things were going with Nick, and I was aware that he was around the corner, straining to hear what was being said. Although there was nothing incriminating, after I hung up the phone, I told my husband that Nick had been behaving poorly in her class. Playing along, he suggested that, in Grade 8, shouldn’t a student know better, and if not, maybe this student shouldn’t be allowed to play in the upcoming hockey tournament.

I dramatically swung around to where Nick sat, stunned…and I flashed him my biggest, brightest smile.

We all laughed, and I savoured the sweet, smooth taste of victory…not at all upset that it was lacking maturity.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life...especially when creatively documented...is good!

originally published in the Waterloo Region Record, May 2010.

Until a recent Sunday afternoon, my idea of preserving and documenting our family history involved barely lifting the lid of a Rubbermaid container, stuffing memorabilia into it, and quickly pushing it back onto a shelf in the basement. This approach ensured that I could quickly forget how overstuffed, under-organized and ineffective this method was.

For a number of reasons - among them the fact that, when placed atop the coffee table for casual perusal, this bin may not enhance the d├ęcor in our family room – I was realizing the best solution to manage our overflowing container would be to create a family scrap book.

Except for the scribbled words, “kids’ keepers,” the outside of the bin is entirely nondescript, but its contents, once considered merely semi-precious nuggets, are now emerging, for scrapbooking purposes, as absolute gold. I was thrilled to uncover forgotten items like a piece of fabric from curtains my mom made for my son’s room…this little gem provides memories of a kid’s first room, AND a sample of a grandparent’s handiwork.

It appeared that my hoarding tendencies were actually paying off. Apparently, the desire to scrapbook (Is that really a verb?) had been dormant in the back of my mind, waiting to spring forth and create beautifully embellished pages with snippets that accentuate the colours of my children’s eyes. OK…maybe not quite. I’m not artistic, but I am smart enough to enlist the help of my 11-year-old daughter whose involvement will ensure that the calibre of aesthetic creativity increases. Significantly.

Thinking that we would just spend an hour or so in the initial planning stages, I decided not to bring the entire bin up from the basement. I ran up and down the stairs, each time producing, to my daughter’s delight, more bits and pieces from my two kids’ babyhood and beyond. But her delight soon changed to bemusement and then, outright fear. My demeanour had undergone a major shift; I was no longer offering jovial explanations of items, but was obsessively gathering, sorting and muttering organizational strategies under my breath.

My neurosis, as it always does in situations like this, began to surface. What’s the best possible way to organize all of this? By year? By child? Oh my goodness, could it actually be by activity? I was tormented by countless questions, because - and this something that my husband is always quick to point out about me - nothing is ever simple.

The family room looked like a scrapbooking store…if it happened to be located in the Disaster District.

I suppose though, if a store had a table scattered with greeting cards and newspaper clippings, and a floor covered with piles of loose photos and albums, ultrasound pictures, tiny first bathing suits, and various other items reminiscent of the lives of two children, then yes, it looked quite like a scrapbooking store. But I suspect that a store would have some semblance of order…which although my goal, was so very far from my reality.

And eventually, reality interfered. My husband was otherwise occupied (taxes, he said, but I know he was just avoiding me…imagine!) and somebody in the family with a drivers’ licence had to get groceries. My obsession loosened its grip as I realized that feeding my family in the near future was more important than documenting our past.

It has become obvious that creating scrapbooks, 14 and 11 years later, isn’t easy…or particularly smart. But luckily (and astonishingly), we produced a craft-happy child who recognizes her mother’s shortcomings, and is also old enough to pick up the slack. Life (especially when nicely documented) is good!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thumbing my Way Through Modern Technology

The tendency to refer to a clumsy person as “all thumbs” has become an irony of our time. It’s as shoe (glove?) that seems to be on the other foot (hand?) as the face of technology continues to shift. Now, mobile communication actually requires an agile and able pair of those very digits once suggestive of physical awkwardness.

It’s no longer enough to have adequate typing skills, with right and left hands tapping alongside one another, giving barely more thought to where each finger falls than we give our mother tongue when speaking.

It is now proficiency in “thumb typing” that is required for the palm-of-hand communication process involved in texting on a cell phone, or emailing on a smart phone. Whether it’s single-thumb typing, or double opposable, it’s nearly impossible without a moderately dexterous pair.

After years of enjoying successful synaptic connections between my 10 typing fingers and my brain, I am dismayed to discover the relationship between my thumbs and my thinker is terribly lacking.

I am determined to persevere until, similar to my 14-year-old and his cohorts, thumb-typing becomes second nature. At present though, each text I compose is slow. Laborious. With… long… pauses… between… each… and… every… character.

As I stare at the keypad with alternating wide and narrowed eyes, my crooked thumb hovers, cramping, waiting to reconcile with my brain which key to hit next.

A friend, who, as a parent of kids older than mine, has been a texting aficionado for awhile, once apologized for using abbreviations in an email, figuring (correctly) that I would find them irritating.

However, since my method of texting requires the intense and lengthy consideration of each and every letter before applying the right amount of pressure, the right amount of times, I now see the appeal and have come to embrace the practice.

I am no longer ashamed to use, abuse, and even cre8 abbreviations when texting.

And texting, in general, is easier than calling my son. I can thumb type “dnr, hm now, pls” rather than calling and asking where he is and what he’s doing - that inquisition can wait until he arrives home. Texting also leaves him little opportunity to ask what’s for dinner, didn’t we just have that, and can’t we have something good for a change? In both cases, words best spoken face to face.

Sometimes I wonder if kids these days will learn to type properly, especially since some of them might begin their wired-in experience with thumb typing.

I have vivid memories of Grade 9 typing class with a teacher who was an awkward, timid man otherwise, but when setting his class to work on unmarked typewriter keys, excitedly sprang to life. He gleefully sang each letter and number for the class to type, and became especially melodic (and somewhat contorted) when we were to tap the “space” bar.

There is no question how distressed he would be about the emergence of thumb typing. Although I once worried about my kids developing poor typing habits, now that I’ve given it more thought - and publicly admitted to using abbreviations in texts - I’m not sure what other “bad” typing habits exist. I suspect my Grade 9 typing teacher would bg 2 dfr.

I was recently able to “flext my messaging muscles” when a friend’s husband sent me a text, pleading, “Please teach my wife how to text!” He knew she and I were together, and was not surprised when she did not reply to his message.

What a great feeling of pride I felt coursing through my…thumbs!

...and here for some history about my technical inabilities in Techno Gender-ational Gap