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Hot Dam!

Okay bunnies, it’s confession time again.

I love going on school field trips.  And I’ve done them all:  from High Park and The Science Centre, to Tafelmusik and my latest:  The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Young People’s Concerts.

Yeah, field trips invariably include rain, steamy schoolbuses and the $100,000 questions:  why is Billy sitting over the wheel again and who’s got a carsick bag?

Or there’s the constant head counting, on (1-2-3-4-5-6..) and off (1-2-3-4-5-6…) of every form of public transportation that this lovely city has to offer.  Ahh…those moments of horror when you think you’ve lost one of the little blighters delights, only to realise that they’ve taken off their hat and now you have to remember to find and count a head of tousled brown hair.

Because I’m a field trip veteran, the teacher often hands me the list of kids in my group with a nervous smile that says “good luck”.

Inevitably I’m in charge of either The Runner or the Talker.  If you’ve ever been on a field trip with a bunch of elementary school children, you know these two characters well.  The Runner is that kid who doesn’t think “stay with your group” applies to them and is never where you last put them.  If you look away for two seconds, they are usually as far away from you as is possible (don’t let those little legs fool you, The Runner can move like they’re channelling Usain Bolt and just so you know, the Science Centre is reeeaaaally big – but <ahem> I digress.)

The Talker on the other hand, is the one who is glued to you the whole trip, talking incessantly, until by the time you get them back to school, you know far, far more about them and their family than you probably should.

By now you’re probably thinking “Didn’t you say you love field trips?  Doesn’t sound like it.”  But truth be told, despite the stress <bows to teachers everywhere> I get it.  It’s a field trip, which means no matter where you’re going, it’s a day spent NOT AT SCHOOL – woot!

And for me, I get to go places and experience things that I’d never get to do otherwise….okay, fine – I’m as big a kid as the rest of them.  But I also understand that The Runner is just really curious and The Talker is often hilarious and they’re all a blast if you just see the world through their eyes.

And what better way to experience the world through the eyes and mind of a curious child, than my latest foray into the wonders of educational field trips in Toronto, a visit to “Lights, Camera, Orchestra!” part of the Young People’s Concert series presented by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and featuring the short film, “Dam!  The Story of Kit the Beaver.”

G-_Guest-Artist-Photos-&amp;-Materials_2016-2017_DAM!-The-Story-of-Kit_DAM_poster_TSO_vUPDATED_072616

The audience, comprised of school groups from around the city, settled in to the always stunning Roy Thompson Hall for a whirlwind tour of the role that classical music plays in often surprising places, including some of the most iconic television, film and ballet productions in the world.  From Mission Impossible through Bugs Bunny, Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Blue Danube and Jaws; the orchestra, led by the infectious enthusiasm and seemingly boundless energy of conductor Earl Lee, effectively illustrated  to the lively audience, how music tells a story.

Earl Lee conducts Lights, Camera... Orchestra @Jag Gundu

Sprinkled throughout the presentation were opportunities for the kids to get involved, and the students gleefully jumped in to voice the title shout from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mambo”.

Earl Lee, TSO (school concert) @Jag Gundu

Now I’ll admit, I was a little nervous when I realised that a large portion of the audience were armed with recorders – the instrument, not the device.  I played the recorder at school and well, we all know it doesn’t always do well in groups.  But when Mr. Lee and the orchestra led the recorder-welding students through a boisterous rendition of the theme from Star Wars, I was cheering – it was awesome!

And just when the kid in me couldn’t get more excited, the orchestra introduced us to Kit the Beaver.  Dam!  The Story of Kit the Beaver is a short film, commissioned by the TSO in partnership with the Toronto International Film Festival for the Canada 150 celebrations.

It is brilliant and so quintessentially Canadian.

I was blown away, not just by the animation of the story, but by how it was told so beautifully by the orchestra:  bringing home to the audience, the integral role of music to convey emotion in film.

I won’t give you any spoilers, except to say that I loved it.  Indeed, there was much ugly crying by the end, because, well – little beaver, big heart, huge dam issues and friends who save the day…<sniffle> it was <sniffle> fantastic!

Happily, you can experience Kit’s adventures for yourself – and you really, really should!  Bring your kids – and if you’re a sentimental blubberer like myself – your tissues, and head down to the TIFF Bell Lightbox to see it.  There’s even a Q&A with the director, Kjell Boersma on April 11th and 20th.

Be sure to check out the next TSO Young People’s concert –  The Hockey Sweater (the classic story by Roch Carrier with music by Abigail Richardson-Schulte) playing in April.

 

And to all you field trip moms and dads out there…I salute you!  May you always have a plastic bag in your pocket.

 

(Photo Credits:  Jag Gundu for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.)

 

…tap, tap…is this thing on?

Greetings Bunnies.  Yes, it’s been a while.  And why is that, exactly?  Well I have to confess…I was giving my attention to another creative love interest.  You see, I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to creative projects.  I have an idea and well…yeah.  It all becomes a bit “my preciousssss” but thankfully without the hair loss and manky teeth.

As many of you know, I’ve been chugging away on rewriting the first draft of a YA Sci-fi/Fantasy novel.  I’ve had a lot of people say to me “So, when’s your novel coming out?” as if it’s as simple a matter as sitting down at the computer, mug of coffee in hand, watching rainbows of perfect prose flow onto the page, then sending your shiny novel off to an agent, who is positively starstruck by your genius and before you know where you are, your book is on the shelves of all your favourite bookstores and you are a NYT bestselling author.

Uhhh…no.  not exactly <cries>

I wrote a first draft.  It took me about three months and was an amazing experience.  131,000 words, all mine, a story that gave me goosebumps and characters that I loved like they were real people, some days even more so.

But editing and rewriting?  Taking out the scalpel and “killing your darlings”?  ugh.  My mother had an expression:  “you make a rod for your own back.”  Which basically means I’m a masochist.  Let me give you an example.  I had a wonderful prologue that was going to tie everything together, the characters were interesting, and I put them in all kinds of life-threatening and heart breaking-then-mending situations.  They were the cornerstone to the whole saga.  They were where everything began and the story couldn’t happen without them.  Absolutely couldn’t … nuh-uh.

It was all perfect.

Until I gave the pages to my husband to read and he loved it.

…Wait, what?

No, you didn’t read that wrong.  He loved it.  In fact he loved it so much that he wanted more.  He wanted more of those characters.

But…but…they weren’t even the main story.  They were just the warm-up act – the opening band.  It was then I realised that I was in trouble.  Like Indiana Jones trapped in a pyramid with snakes trouble.  I’d written an incredible backstory, but it wasn’t the actual story (and a 30 page prologue is a bit of a no-no …<nervous laugh>)  What the heck was I doing, anyway?  I had no freaking clue what I was doing.  Even U.S. Immigration would only refer to me as an “aspiring writer” until I had something published that they’d actually heard of (and apparently a MSc. thesis on heterophyllous buttercups doesn’t count – meh, there’s no accounting for taste but that’s a whole other story).

So back to what was rapidly becoming a nervous breakdown in progress…I cut the prologue.  (Saved it, yes.  Love it still.  Maybe I’ll eventually publish it as a novella.)  Now the story started where it should, right?  We meet the main protagonist, what my writerly friends call the “FMC” (female main character), in Chapter 1.  And what a chapter that was.  I laughed, I cried…it was awesome.  So was chapter two – heartbreaking, emotional…so, so shiny my precious <ahem, sorry, where was I?>  Oh right.  Even Chapter 3, where I sneak in all that pesky exposition?  Ahhhhh.  Sculpted for weeks, months – polished to within an inch of its life.  As good as it was going to get (before an editor gets hold of it, anyway).

I sent those three chapters to a friend to read, and once again got hubby to give me his honest opinion (and as an aside, don’t ever ask him if an outfit looks good on you unless you want an honest answer.  You do get used to that kind of honesty and it can be invaluable once you stop freaking out).  The response was universal.  It’s great, but what’s the story about?  Well, for crying out loud!   I’m getting to that…can’t you see?  It’s right here in chapter 4…

…Oh, wait…

That sound of screaming?  That’s chapters 1-3 joining my beautiful prologue in the pile of exiled darlings.  God, you’re all gorgeous, but you do diddly to tell the actual story.  You are, what they refer to in writing circles as a runway.  Yep, the literary equivalent of Fred Flintstone frantically flapping his feet down the tarmac.

On the upside, getting my novel down to the publisher-preferred 100,000 words is super easy when I cleave off a 30-page prologue and the first three chapters.  And maybe I actually am getting the hang of this writing a novel business when I can shove that protective, fanged ego out of the way for a minute and see what’s not working.  So onward to Chapter 4, or as I now like to call it:  Chapter 1.

And to those of you who keep reading chapters for me, only to have me say “Well thanks so much, but I’ve actually cut that chapter from the book?”  I’m so, so sorry.  It will stop eventually – hopefully before the story becomes a haiku written on a cocktail napkin.

Ooh…now there’s an idea….

Mine.

This pain is mine
-and mine alone.

This exquisite agony
Is everything,

And nothing.

Joy is shared,
But this pain-

This exquisite agony
Is mine.

And mine alone.

It is my badge
And I clutch it to my heart

Where it rips
And tears

And bleeds.

Joy is shared
This pain is mine.

Hiding, returning,
Never fully
Out
Of
Sight…

This pain

This exquisite agony,
Is mine alone,

And I treasure it,
Like a dark light

Writhing, curling.

I treasure it,
This perfect pain

Because it carved and cut and molded
-it made me

Who I am.


This one was written several years ago, when it struck me how pain can shape the people we become and that sometimes, those people are stronger than they ever were before.

Citrus and Coconut Body Scrub.

When I was young, I loved helping my mother in the kitchen.  She taught me all the basics of cooking and baking and most importantly, how to be creative in the kitchen.  Living on a small island, if we couldn’t get a certain ingredient, or didn’t have a tool we needed, we couldn’t simply go out and buy it, so we had to be resourceful.  Sometimes, after an afternoon in the kitchen, she would “treat” us to a butter-sugar hand scrub.  She’d put a small dab of butter in each of our palms, and top it with a bit of sugar and we’d rub it all over our hands.  It tickled like mad, rubbing the sugar on the palm of your hands, but when we were finished, and we washed the sugar off, our hands always felt amazing-smooth and soft.  A handy, household exfoliant!

I still occasionally use the butter-sugar trick for smoother hands, but I’ve recently become interested in the benefits of essential oils to fight the winter blahs, and so when I saw a recipe for Citrus Body Scrub on the Well Blog I had to try it!

Just like my mother’s butter-sugar mixture, there are two key ingredients: a mild, soluble all natural exfoliant and an oil or fat to soothe and seal in moisture on your newly softened skin.  In this case, the added benefits are three bright and aromatic essential oils.

The recipe is simple:

1½ c. white sugar (or a mixture of white and brown, or even all brown)
½ c. coconut oil
5 drops bergamot oil
8 drops lemon oil
5 drops orange oil
zest of one lemon

Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly, and store in a sealed container.

In the shower, gently apply the scrub to wet skin and when you’ve rubbed it in a bit, rinse it off.  Just bear in mind that you don’t want to be too gung-ho with it, or you will actually irritate your skin, and it doesn’t need any more irritation than it already gets-especially if you are in the middle of a Canadian winter.

The essential oils – bergamot, lemon and orange – give any blah mood an immediate lift and the coconut oil is not only nourishing to the skin, but always makes me think of the beach!

Check out www.well.ca or your local health food store for ingredients and experiment with different combinations of essential oils to suit your mood.

IMG_7950I’ve discovered a mixture called “Cheer Up Buttercup” by Now® Solutions, that contains orange, lemon and bergamot in a slightly different blend, that would work very well in the scrub.  Or, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, perhaps a more sensual blend like Naturally Loveable oil blend (also by Now®) with jasmine, ylang-ylang, lemon, orange and sandalwood.  Don’t like citrus?  Skip the lemon zest and citrus oils and try lavender essential oil, one of my favourites for calming and soothing the senses.

A word of caution!  As with any other oil-based bath or shower product, this one will make the bath or shower floor a bit slippery, so be careful.

“Can you hear the people sing?”

One cold March night in the early nineties, I surprised my Mumsie on her birthday with tickets to see Les Miserables. I was a student at the time and didn’t have two cents to rub together, but I saved enough to buy two student tickets for seats in the gods of the Royal Alexandra Theatre here in Toronto. Our seats were on the very back row of the theatre and all the way up those many stairs, we joked about nosebleeds and vertigo. But it was worth the climb. Laid out below us were the mesmerizing sights and sounds of the theatre; the red velvet curtains, the ornate decor, the orchestra squeaking away as they warmed up beneath the stage. We were like kids in a candy store not knowing what to look at first, and that experience alone might have been enough to build a lasting memory.

But then the orchestra began the first trembling strains of the overture that, even now, I hear in my head-note for note. Those magnificent red velvet curtains went up, and Michael Burgess stepped out into a spotlight and began to sing. In that moment, nothing else existed, not the thought of the dreary, blowing cold of early March, not the stresses of student or personal life. In that moment, it was just us and the magic.

Over the next few years we went to see Michael in his role of Jean Valjean again and again and again, eventually finding ourselves at his last performance. It just as moving as the first time we’d seen him. We cheered ourselves hoarse as the curtain calls came and went and roses were thrown, and then we cried like fools not because of the performance itself (although we’d cried through each and every one) but because this time, we wanted it to never end.

It is one of my most treasured memories.

Wherever you are, Michael (and I hope you are in Grannieland with my Mumsie) rest assured, I can still hear the people sing…

http://t.thestar.com/#/article/entertainment/2015/09/28/canadian-tenor-michael-burgess-dies-at-age-70.html

Writing it all down.

“I have written you down now/You will live forever” -Bastille, “Poet”

Can I call myself a writer now?….how about now?   

I’ve always envied people who, even from childhood, knew what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Those people who have that one great passion-one calling:  to be a doctor, an actor, a musician, a writer, a teacher.  I suppose for them it can be both a blessing and a curse.  I suppose they also suffer crises of confidence-perhaps they too doubt themselves, but at least for them, at the end of the day, their one great passion is also their refuge, the thing that they can pour themselves into and for that moment, be fulfilled.  It gives their life meaning.

My passion has always been pretty much everything.  I am that most unfortunate of creatures. The jack-of-all-trades, master of none.  And the older I get, the more frustrating it becomes, the less content I am with not really knowing my place in the world.  And I ask myself “who am I?”  Then, “does it matter?”  Should it matter?  Should I be content to simply exist?   

But something strange and wonderful happened when my mother died.  As the grief became more manageable and I started putting the bits and pieces of myself back together, my search for meaning became clearer.  There came a day when I decided it was time to sort through her photographs and 8mm films.  No small task, considering she had once been a photographer by profession and her love of photographs meant that her collection spanned nearly 100 years of family history.  As I sorted through a massive plastic tote bin of loose photos, I began to realise that life itself is meaning.  I began to realise that finding meaning in life is about preserving who we are so that we will live forever in what we leave behind.  I knew in that moment that I had to preserve the person my mother was so that she would live forever-for my children, their children.  So that like the photographs, someone could one day look back and see who we were.  I had to write it down.

I’d like to say a writer was born that day.  But I soon discovered that that’s not quite how it works.  

Being of a logical sort, I decided that in order to write anything I had to first buy myself a nice notebook.  Pen in hand, I sat and stared at the lovely off-white page for what seemed like forever before I started with the brilliant first line “My mother was born in…”

After numerous awful iterations in a similar vein, I decided I needed some help.   I bought scads of writing books by the likes of Steven King, Anne Lamott and Natalie Goldberg.  But still, every attempt I made reeked.  I decided I should take a course on memoir writing.  New notebook in hand, pencils sharpened, I was the first student to arrive and the teacher and I introduced ourselves.   She asked me to tell her why I was taking the course and I proudly announced “I want to write a memoir about my mother’s life.”  She replied “No one wants to read about your mother’s life.”

Thud.

There were several possibilities for what would happen next:  I’d burst into tears or I’d leave the class.  Maybe both.  But then she added “You have to write your own story.”  Hmm…I decided to stay.  Over the next few weeks, we learned about runways (yes, that’s one right at the beginning of this piece…Hmph), we struggled to find our inner voice, to avoid adverbs, to “show don’t tell”, to write from scars not wounds.  And as I listened to my companions read their work out loud-pieces that touched on massive, extremely personal life changing events, struggles and challenges, all I could think was how lame my story was.  I had a mother, she had an interesting life and she died, it was sad, the end.  I felt like an impostor with nothing important or interesting to say.  Certainly nothing of the calibre that would warrant writing about it.

We were told that the two things all good writers have in common is that they’ve been writing from an early age and they love to read.  Well, I wanted to be a good writer, so I took stock:  I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I wrote stories when they were assigned at school, papers in university, business proposals, the odd letter to a friend and an occasionally witty facebook post, but writing stories as a vocation?  Journaling?  Nope.  Was I too old?  Did I need a degree in English?  A love of classics?

I began to wonder if my epiphany about becoming a writer had been akin to Ebeneezer Scrooge’s “..bit of underdone potato.”

But as time passed, I knew I couldn’t give up.  Despite all my self doubt, I’d tasted that moment-that shining moment when the words work and you look at what you’ve written and it is good and it is right and while your mind says “where the hell did that come from?” your heart is giving itself high fives.  And so I struggled on.

Until I eventually did give up.  Who was I kidding?   I’m a 43 year old housewife.  Somewhere along the way, I had turned my idea of writing my mother’s life story for my children into a mountain of insecurity and doubt.  I tried to tell myself it didn’t matter who read it, it was for my kids, but it wasn’t happening.  It would never be good enough.  I couldn’t scale the mountain.

One night as I got into bed and turned off the light, a character appeared in my head, and like me, she had a story that needed telling.  But her voice was easier to hear than my own, so I got out of bed, found a scrap of paper and a pen, and I started writing it down.

Not long after that night, I now had some more characters and a plot outline but I also had children and a busy life-it was tough to get into a writing habit and the type A personality I have been harbouring all my life, the one never content to just “be”, wanted carrot and stick.  So I took on the NaNoWriMo challenge.  I vowed to give it the best shot I could, and to just write.  To not look back, to not edit until I was done, to always finish the day’s writing on a cliffhanger and to write every day.  Thirty days and 56,000 words later I had two thirds of a story that wasn’t half bad-a work of fiction into which I had lovingly tucked my own life and the lives of the people I have both loved and hated.  Printing off those pages, looking at the words, I understood that I could do it.  I just had to keep at it.

So I am a writer now.  Perhaps not destined for best sellers and awards, but I know now that one day I will scale that mountain and write my mother’s story-my story; for her, for me and for my children.   And I hope that it one day finds its way onto a bookshelf somewhere, and that it gives some meaning to the vagaries of life.  

Now I just have to finish writing it all down.

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.”  Karen Blixen under the pen name Isak Dinesen

Grace.

We sit together in the neurologist’s cluttered little office. Winter sunlight struggles through mangled blinds, pooling on the tall, teetering stacks of books and papers that cover every surface. It feels like we’re at the bottom of a canyon.

“Did you know?” She says.  Halting words, each an effort.

Eight months of injuries, doctors and tests have culminated in a final, devastating verdict. She is dying; slowly cocooned by the creeping death that is ALS.

I will myself to meet her eyes, knowing I’ll see my fear reflected in her face. Helplessness. Hopelessness. I imagine them swallowing us whole.

“I suspected.”

She struggles to sit upright in the wheelchair. Her face, once bright, is now hollow; her curly red hair, now limp and grey. I help her to sit up, then tuck the blanket around her legs and feet. She’s always cold now.

“I think we all thought it” she says, “we were just afraid to say it out loud, make it real, you know? It was my worst fear.”
“I know.” I close my eyes as the room seems to spin in a single, quiet revolution.
“I hate this,” she says, “if I was a dog they would put me to sleep. I wish there was a pill I could take…” her words trail off.
“I know.”
“Can I please have a hug? I really need a hug.” Carefully wrapping my arms around her, I hold on. We are too numb for tears.

Six months before, she’d developed weakness in the index finger of her left hand. Doctors put it down to arthritis, but within three months, it had spread to her arms, legs, and back. One day she tells me that it feels like she’s forgotten how to walk. She later suffers several catastrophic falls that leave her cut and bruised and terrified to walk, even with a walker. Now, she can’t even defecate without help. Muscle atrophy has left her unable to speak clearly, and swallowing is so difficult that she often chokes on food, making mealtimes terrifying. Her future is crushingly predictable: eventually the muscles around her lungs will fail and she will no longer be able to breathe. The cruel reality of ALS means that throughout her physical ordeal, her mind and senses will be unaffected. She will always be completely aware of what is happening to her body, able to feel everything, from the constant cold in her immobile limbs, to the aches of being unable to change her position.

My mother is an amazing human being. She experienced an often terrifying childhood in war-time England, survived Scarlet fever, endured the grief of losing two children to late-term miscarriages, suffered spousal abuse, was divorced Mumsie.  Always with a twinkle in her eye.twice, and yet despite so many tough experiences-perhaps because of them-she truly appreciates the good in her life. She doesn’t think of herself as a victim; she is a fighter, proud of who she is and all that she has overcome and accomplished; travelling the world, raising her children, starting new careers.

She is a gutsy, compassionate and wonderfully funny lady. …

Now, all she wants to do is die.

ALS has stolen her mobility, her hope and worst of all, her dignity. Her doctors expect her to fight, but never once ask her what she wants, focussing instead on extending her life: prescribing breathing machines to push air into her lungs and feeding tubes to push food into her stomach. They don’t seem prepared to deal with a patient who didn’t want those things. My mother doesn’t want those things. She simply wants to die, at a time of her choosing, at home, with her family around her.

If I can do nothing else to help her, I will try and give her the dignified exit she has asked for. She deserves nothing less.

In my search for options, I learn that because assisted suicide is illegal in Ontario, the only other options for terminally ill patients who want help to die are barbaric at best: refuse food and water and essentially starve yourself to death and/or refuse a breathing machine until your blood oxygen level drops so low that you suffocate.

In the end, my mother makes the only choice available to her. She chooses to refuse.

In the days that follow, despite everything she has lost, the reality of having made her own choices, in having had that final and crucial say in how her life would end, in regaining some of the control that this horrible disease had taken from her, she has
reclaimed her dignity.

On the last day she was able to communicate, my husband and I are at her hospital bedside trying to be upbeat, hoping she won’t realise that we are hovering; helplessness and despair radiating off us in waves.
“What did she say?” My husband asks. Mum’s speech has been reduced to grunts, eye rolls and weak movements from her valiant right hand.
After a moment, I realise that she is saying “Bugger off!”
In disbelief, I meet her gaze and see her eyes twinkling with unexpected humour and in spite of it all, I begin to laugh. I understand, you see.  I understand that we have to stop hovering, to stop treating her like she is already dead. Despite the horror and the helplessness, she wants us to remember that she fully intends to die as she has lived: on her own terms.  With dignity.

 

 

Pink is the new blue.

Today I watched Emma Watson’s speech to the U.N. and it made me cry. She put a voice to an issue that I have been trying to articulate for years: gender equality must apply to both women AND men. If you haven’t seen the speech, watch it here:

I have two young boys. One doesn’t really like sports, and prefers board games or creating new worlds in his stories and drawings. He has a mind like a steel trap, a good sense of humour and is one of the most interesting people I know. The other will throw a punch if he needs to, but mostly loves music and to dance (and is very good at it). He will melt at the sight of anything cute. He can enter a room and immediately size up the emotional state of everyone around him. He likes the colour pink because “lots of good things are pink like raspberries and cotton candy”. Both of my boys have been raised to like what they like, not what society tells them, but I discovered recently that my youngest doesn’t tell his friends that he goes to dance class. You know why. Sadly you know why because society has conditioned us to see dance as a “girl” thing and sports as a “boy” thing, just as pink and blue are so determined.
I am a feminist. I think women should have equal rights. I have seen the rise of “Girl Power” in my generation. I applaud how far we’ve come, and will fight for the gains we still need to make. Girls in our society are finally beginning to hear the message that there is nothing that they cannot aspire to achieve. You want to be a welder? Go for it. A CEO? You can do that. I was certainly raised that way. Our current education system actually caters to girls, with learning systems designed for the way that they learn most effectively. Mandates to teach math and science to girls and encourage girls in STEM are flourishing. And it’s fantastic.

But what about your son? What if he has a hard time sitting at a desk in a classroom all day? What if he wants to be a nurse? A dancer? What if he doesn’t want to play hockey or football? Education systems that help boys optimize their learning are lacking in our society. Nurturing roles for boys are still frowned upon and, shockingly, it is often their own peers who do the judging-and from a very young age.

I’ll confess, I’m pretty old fashioned. I like it when my husband buys me flowers, when he pulls my chair out for me at a restaurant. Do I think he thinks I’m somehow less of a human being because I’m a woman and so he pulls my chair out for me or holds a door open for me? Absolutely not. Would I pull his chair out for him at a restaurant? Honestly? I don’t know. Maybe? Probably?

Our roles in society have changed as trail-blazing women have gone before us to fight for women’s rights. But along the way, society has not changed its view of a man’s role. The problem is, that role has slowly been disappearing and too many men are left lost in a society where they have no role anymore and many of the roles they want to play are taboo for men. There is a whole generation of “lost boys” out there who need to be accepted, just like women, for WHO rather than WHAT they are.

Society needs to allow boys to be sensitive, intelligent, nurturing as well as strong and protective (after all there is the issue of biological imperatives handed down through 100,000+ years of human evolution).

Women have risen up to fight for equality, but now we need to reach out and help to correct the void left by that shift. We, mothers, need to raise boys who are allowed to be who they are just as we encourage our girls to be: strong, compassionate, intelligent human beings.
My boys are growing up with parents who share the responsibility of parenting equally. They see Daddy wash dishes and vacuum, they see Mummy do repairs and take out garbage and vice versa. They see us both support them and encourage their strengths. My only hope for my boys is that we give them strength and wisdom enough to stand up to what society says they should be and remember the lessons we have tried to teach them: that they can be anything they want to be.
We cannot all be the same, so why make us be? Gender equality is about equality not just for women, but for men as well. It isn’t about what you are, it’s about who you are. Society needs people to fall into specific roles: protector, nurturer, teacher, healer etc. it is time that we begin to see that these roles just need humans. Women, men, gay, straight or pink with blue polka dots…
To quote Emma Watson “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”

Parenting 101 or “You’ll have a lot to tell Oprah…”

Greetings, Bunnies.

Fall is falling here in the Northern Hemisphere and leaves and temperatures won’t be far behind. The little bunnies all went back to school, I’ve begun preparing for hibernation (or failing that, Armageddon), baking and making casseroles and knitting a gigantic afghan and reorganizing my kitchen cupboards. It’s like some sort of frantic and bizarre nesting disorder which I’m certain will only get worse as the holidays approach.

In the meantime school has reunited us with other parents that we haven’t seen over the summer, with teachers and with school staff. I’ve accidentally wished several people a “happy new year” this week…that’s how much this all feels like a fresh start. Summertime is awesome. It’s a time for freedom. Rules tend to be relaxed, there’s no homework, more candy is eaten, more video games played, chores are not mandated the way they are when school’s on. But I have to admit, it’s nice to get back into a routine and as we’ve tightened up the reins, reestablishing routines and chores and restrictions, it’s made me think about boredom, boundaries, and the word ‘no’.

One of my favourite films of all time is Sleepless in Seattle. Quit your wincing, yes, I saw you. I remember buying my mother the VHS copy and many nights sitting down together with a bottle of wine to revel in the story of love meant to be. We watched it so many times, we could recite much of the dialog verbatim. Many scenes still stick with me, but the one I love the most is an exchange between Sam and his son Jonah. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, Sam’s wife has died and as painful as it still is, time has passed and he’s finally beginning to carve out a life without her. He has found a new girlfriend and is, with much of his own trepidation, planning a weekend getaway with her. Jonah hates the new girlfriend and is furious with his dad for going. No matter how much Jonah fights for his dad to stay, Sam won’t give in. Jonah gets mad and yells “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” to which his dad replies “Good! You’ll have a lot to tell Oprah!” For me, the scene perfectly captured some of the frustrations of parenting. Jonah likely has no clue who Oprah is, nor why she is even remotely relevant to the argument and I know my kids certainly don’t, but it was Sam’s way of telling Jonah that shit happens and sometimes you have to just get over it because you’re not going to change it.

Parenting, done right, should not be easy. Sure, it will be joyous and bring pride and love into your life beyond the scope of description. But easy? No. I am the proud parent of two clever and very strong-willed boys and I’ve had more battles of wills, especially with my eldest than I can count. Many times over the years, I’ve wondered, occasionally out loud, if I need a lawyer, U.N. Peacekeeper or a hostage negotiator…and yes, I’ve often told them to save the histrionics for Oprah.

Over the years that I’ve been a parent, I’ve read loads of parenting books, studied other parents, my own included, and dissected my own parenting, especially when it all goes pear-shaped and I’ve been run over by a steamroller of kidlogic so convoluted I could weep.

We look at our own childhoods and wonder what we can bring into our children’s lives to make them better. What values were instilled in us that we want our kids to have? I remember being bored. I remember being told no. I remember knowing I was loved. The boredom made me creative and self-sufficient. The word no gave me boundaries and helped me learn about the world and how it works. The love came from the people who listened to me chatter on about my day and took the time to celebrate the good and correct the bad while still showing me that they would always be on my side. Simple, no?

So here’s Mama Bunny’s two cents worth….maybe three…

I think kids are over programmed. An unbelievable number of my children’s friends complain that they have too many activities and they just wish that they could slow down. And why not? Instead of the mad rush from one activity or another, why not sit with your child and play a game? Draw a picture? Stare into space and talk. Get to know your bunny before they grow up and you don’t know who they are.
Or (gasp) let them be bored! They’ll find something to do. We did. Just make sure they have enough to get started and then let them go to it. Yes, they may push their boundaries. Yes, you may end up with overflowing sinks from science experiments in the bathroom. I believe it will all be worth it. (Shoot, it had better be).

Why we parents feel the need to fill every.single.solitary.minute of every day with programmed activity is a mystery to me. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. It’s like collecting merit badges. I listen to parents on the playground comparing the activities their kids are in and I catch myself feeling like I’m a bad parent because my eldest refuses to be interested in any extracurricular activities at all and I’ve only ever forced him to take swimming. Am I failing him somehow? I don’t think so anymore. He is the most interesting kid I know. We sit and draw together, play games together and I know every detail of what is going on in his life. We talk about anything and everything. When he complains he’s bored, I say “let’s think of something to do” or “come give me a hand with what I’m doing” and inevitably, it’s awesome. Will loads of activities make my child more well rounded? Get him into Harvard? I’ll never know. I’m pretty happy with my kids being “bored”.

I also believe that like Jonah in Sleepless in Seattle, children need to hear the word ‘no’. They need to hear it nicely, firmly, but liberally and often enough that they don’t think the world will be delivered to them on a silver platter. But it is hard. You need a will of iron to withstand a 45 minute shriek-fest when you won’t give in to demands from a 2 year old. It’s seems easier to give in, but then, as my Mumsie was fond of saying..you’ve made a rod for your own back.
You have the power to shape your bunnies into awesome, strong, resourceful, loving people and your greatest tool is the word ‘no’ and the teeth-gritting strength to back it up. You need to show them that there is integrity behind the word because you are the one that they slowly -and occasionally terrifyingly- morph into as they grow up. (Don’t tell me you will never be like your parents. We all get there eventually, no matter how much we try no to. I open my mouth and I hear my mother and wonder how the heck did she get in there? Easy. My parents taught me how to be a parent by example. Granted, sometimes it was ‘what not to do’ but that’s an entirely different blog). Ultimately, you have to be the one who says ‘no’ to them because they learn far more from you and far more from the ‘no’ than from the yes.

I get a lot of pushback from my kids and damn, it’s hard to say no, because when you do, all heck lets loose. It’s like that one little word is the code to open Pandora’s box and (yes, yes, mixing my metaphors) it feels like there’s no way to get that genie back into the bottle without giving in. But we can’t give in all the time, and ‘no’often gets me “you’re the worst parent EVER!” Well, at least I’m the best at something.

But here’s where ‘no’ works for you. ‘No’ gives them the boundaries that they need. No matter what some books will tell you about societal constructs, (yes, I’m looking at you “The Four Agreements”) we live and work in a society that has rules. Like it or not, we generally need to work with these rules. But it’s easier when we are busy and tired to say ‘yes’, right? Yup. Until everything starts to come unravelled and you have a child throwing a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket because for once you said ‘no’. Every one is looking at you, it’s embarrassing…it’s too easy to give in. Here’s where ‘no’ needs backup.
‘No’ should come with two other things: an explanation and a consequence that you enforce, even if it causes you grief. One of my favourite and most revered parenting tales came from a friend who was one day shopping with her two girls. They were misbehaving and were told no and why. The consequence would be leaving the supermarket. When they didn’t stop, she wheeled her cart to one of the staff, and with her girls listening, explained that they were leaving because her children wouldn’t behave and would he mind putting her groceries back. She left the store, her girls mortified. I’m not sure I would have had the guts, but those girls never repeated their performance of that day because they knew their Mum would back up her ‘no’ with a consequence.

No is inevitably followed by “why?” And that’s where you have the chance to be the awesome parent you are. Tell them how the world works. Tell them that they have to work for what they want. Tell them about self control. Failing that, tell them “because I said so”.

Then explain to them that sometimes they just have to take no and live with it. And if they don’t like it, well, they’ll always have something to tell Oprah.