Tag Archives: children

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.”

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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.)

 

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.

Grannieland.

When my Mum died I worried about how it would affect my kids. We are a close-knit family and my boys, especially my eldest bunny, were really close to their Grannie.

Grief was hard enough for the grown-ups. How would it affect a 9 and 6 year old?

The night Mum died, I came home from the hospital and broke the news to the boys as gently as I could. My youngest, who reacts strongly to the emotions of the people around him, curled up in my lap and cried with me. My older bunny though, he did not shed a single tear. I watched him and worried. Surely this was not good? I told him it was okay to cry, but still he didn’t. Was holding his feelings in? Walling them off, as I had done in the months leading up to my Mum’s death? Was he trying to be tough? Would his feelings come out in other ways? I wondered: was there a ‘right’ way to grieve?

A few minutes passed and then he turned to me and said “Mummy, where is Granny now?”
We have a policy of always telling our kids the truth. They know that there is no question I won’t answer. Obviously we manage our explanations based on how old the kids are, but overall, as best we can, they always get the truth. This time it was hard, but I did the best I could. “I don’t know, love. She always said she would be looking down on us. I’d like to think that’s what she’s doing now, but I don’t know.”
Not the best answer, but I hoped it would help.
But he shook his head. “No, Mummy, that’s not what I mean. I mean where is she actually? Is she at the hospital? What will they do with her?”
I realised that he wanted to know about her body. For a split second I balked. Surely…surely this was morbid territory for a nine year old. As I tried to figure out how to explain it to him, it occurred to me that perhaps he was trying to process the loss of his beloved Grannie, just as we were. He simply needed to go about it in his own way, by asking questions that would help him understand.
So I took a deep breath and explained as gently as I could that yes, Grannie was still at the hospital and that they would keep her in the morgue and that the next day, she would be cremated. I explained that she wasn’t ‘in’ her body anymore. He thought about that for a while. Then he simply said “Okay.”

In the days that followed, I watched him like a hawk, looking for any sign that he was having difficulty. He had still not shed a tear, but he had asked many, many more questions.
“Where do people go when they die?”
“Why do people get buried?”
“What happens when someone is cremated?”
“Did Grannie want to be cremated?”
“What did Grannie look like when she died?”

The questions were sometimes hard to answer, but we answered them anyway.

People seem to expect tears when someone grieves. But my eldest bunny, with his sharp and curious mind didn’t need the tears. He needed clarity in order to process what had happened. So that’s what we gave him. We talked about Grannie. We laughed at all the crazy antics she would get up to. We told stories of all our favourite things about her. On her birthday, we made her favourite cake. It wasn’t always easy, but we discovered that by helping him to heal, we all began to heal.

Several days after Mum’s death, I spoke with a children’s grief counsellor from the Temmy Latner Palliative Care team at Mount Sinai hospital. I told her all about my older Bunny’s reaction and she confirmed what I had figured out: his reaction was actually just fine. Everyone needs to grieve in his or her own way, and children most of all. There should be no expectation or timeline. If you need to cry that’s okay, but if you don’t, that’s okay too. Giving him answers to all his questions was exactly what he needed in order to deal with the death of his Grannie.

But what about the younger bunny? He had cried the night that his Grannie died, but I knew it was due more to the fact that I was crying than his own grief. After that night, he hadn’t said much about it. I wondered if he understood what had happened. Was he too young? Did it simply not have the impact on him that it did on the rest of us?

I soon discovered that he too had his own special way of dealing with his sadness.

Several months after Mum’s death, the little bunny and I were walking to school. It was a gorgeous spring day, full of buds about to pop and warm breezes. The whole world seemed to hum with things growing.

As we walked along, my little boy happily stopped to look at bugs and flowers, gently touching the new leaves on the hedges. He skipped over cracks in the sidewalk and chattered away about everything and nothing at all. I marvelled at him. His big heart and gentle ways were living proof that as bad as it can be sometimes, life goes on.

Then I noticed the little black bundle of fur in the road. It looked like an unlucky squirrel had been hit and killed by a passing car. As we approached the squashed little body, I tried to shield my little bunny from seeing it. We’d had enough of death, and this poor little creature had met such a painful end. Despite my attempts to distract him, he saw it and went quiet. A few yards further down the sidewalk he said “What do you think happened to him, Mummy?”
“I think he was hit by a car, love. I didn’t want you to see it. I thought it would make you sad.”
He turned his sweet little smile up to me and he said “It is sad, Mummy, but it’s okay. The squirrel is with Grannie now, in Grannieland. There are trees there for him to climb in and he has friends there. And Grannie, of course.”
And there it was. I understood that he had dealt with his grief by creating his own version of heaven.
I leaned down and gave him a hug and a kiss. And as we walked along on that spring morning, I marvelled at how these two little boys had managed in two completely different ways, to understand and cope with tragedy, just by being themselves.