Monday, January 31, 2011
While I will never force my son to play the piano for three hours a day or deny him playdates, I agree with her that hard work makes things enjoyable. Self-esteem and confidence don't come from our words. Whether we're parents or teachers, we can't speak those qualities into our children. Children believe in themselves when they accomplish things. These accomplishments can be as simple as sewing on a button or as dramatic as getting a touchdown. In Ms. Chua's case, it's playing at Carnegie Hall. In my case, my son's love of literature is important. Do these things reflect our own interests as parents? Of course. But, it's what I have to offer my child. It's natural that we share our gifts and interests with our children. And then, when they're old enough, they'll find their own way, but they'll have a solid foundation. They'll know what it's like to care about something.
When Kieran was a baby and so much of the advice I received was absolute, I chanted the mantra in my head: there are many ways to raise a child. I thank Amy Chua for reminding us of that. I thank her for getting us thinking about the impact of our words and actions (or lack thereof). I thank her for caring about mothering.
If you haven't already, make sure you read her essay--and the comments that follow. She'll infuriate and inspire. She certainly doesn't deserve death threats...but I guess it's good for book sales.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
"There's something missing," she said.
"What?" I asked, my stomach turning.
"Well, I can't believe you haven't mentioned Mrs. Harvey."
School wasn't my thing. For many years, particularly in high school, I found it frustrating, confusing, and boring. In math class, I tried so hard to focus, but my mind would wander. I'd understand the first few steps of a problem, but once I reached an obstacle, my comprehension unravelled. I'd stare at the list of questions, knowing that if I couldn't do the first one, I couldn't do the rest. I thought I was stupid.
Passionate about things like history and art, I read avidly at home but scraped by at school. I was in some academic (advanced) and some applied (general) classes. I didn't really consider going to university--it didn't seem like an option.
I entered Grade Twelve, feeling a little nauseated when our guidance counsellors started talking about "the future." I had no idea what I wanted to do.
On my first day of Senior English, I appraised my new teacher. A streak of white blazed through her dark curly hair. She wore Birkenstocks and a funky dress. She laughed easily and revealed a genuine passion for teaching. I listened as she went over the course outline. She expected a lot and I wondered if I shouldn't switch to another class. But something made me want to stay.
The classroom promised adventure. Mrs. Harvey had positioned a dead tree at the front of the room, its branches casting twisted shadows across her lectern. Images of Picasso's "Three Musicians" and characters from Greek Mythology decorated the walls. A mournful painting of Prometheus watching his liver be devoured by an eagle captured my imagination. His agonized face etched the definition of hubris onto my mind. Cassettes of Leonard Cohen and Dylan Thomas lined the shelf beside the tape player. Student artwork and poetry found places alongside "the greats." It seemed like an interesting spot and Mrs. Harvey's eccentric enthusiasm made me wonder if I might learn something.
There are things I don't remember about the day I got my first assignment back in that class. I don't remember where I sat in the room. I don't remember what I was wearing. I don't even remember what the assignment was about or the grade I received. But I do remember that Mrs. Harvey's comment was written in green ballpoint pen. And I know that it changed the course of my life.
The comment said: "I hope you plan to pursue English at the post-secondary level."
Well, then. Maybe I wasn't stupid.
Mrs. Harvey told me I was good at writing and whether or not that was actually true, she ignited a little spark that urged me to make something of myself. Thinking that I had ability made me realize it was worthwhile to work at it.
Work at it, I did. Over the school year, we read challenging texts, wrote poetry, composed essays, and discussed the human condition. She was ruthless about grammar and style. Suddenly, the humble comma exuded power if strategically placed. I felt awake, alive, and challenged.
While I came from a loving and supportive home, it was the encouragement of a teacher that pushed me in the right direction, confirming that it really does take a village to raise a child. It's something that we adults need to remember. Whether we are boss, teacher, coach, or mentor to youth, our words prove powerful.
It's not about indulging kids with false hope and inflated entitlement. It's about seeing something real, recognizing it, and telling them. The feeling of having another adult--other than my parents who loved me unconditionally--recognize my potential not only made me work harder, it made me believe in myself. It made me a better person.
Have I told Mrs. Harvey about the impact she's had on my life? Yes. Several times. But it's been a number of years now. I just might send her a copy of this column.
If anyone finds any grammatical errors, please let me know.
This has not been a great day. At least Mr. Tyler will appear on American Idol tonight. It might make that show tolerable.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
I try to avoid "self-improvement" resolutions. They just make me feel crummy. Who wants to lose weight or save money? Too much pressure. Making the resolution draws attention to the problem. Then, when I fail to fix myself, I feel like I suck even more. Why bother? I prefer denial and I'm happier (and curvier) for it.
Over the years, I've made some obscure resolutions. I've resolved to start a compost, buy more local food, learn to knit, write a novel...all of which I've done. Because they're not really about me. It's easier to commit to something that isn't about me...and then, in the end, it is about me. Also, these things are all easier than running a marathon.
As I write this, Findley purrs in my lap. I ask him what I should do and he ignores me.
1) Get a clothesline and a water barrel.
2) Read more. Maybe Findley wasn't ignoring me. He was guiding my attention towards my books with his thoughtful gaze.
3) Find a sport Kieran and I can do together...like rock climbing...or something...
4) Write a novel. Again.
5) Laugh more.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
This morning, as I was rushing around, trying not to raise my voice, I realized how unhinged I must have sounded to a little boy who just wants to play. I was reminded of this column from last year. I don't think I ever posted it here. It's in my collection of columns.
Three in the Morning
Finish your breakfast. Brush your teeth. Hurry up. I have to get to work. Put on your hat. Come back here. No, I don't have time to be a polar bear. We have to go. I'm going to be late. I love you, too. Your hair's a mess. I said, come here. You're going to spill my coffee. Okay, now put on your boots. Let's go, love. Get in the car. Oh, please don't sit on the ground--you're not wearing snow pants. I said, get in the car! There goes my coffee. Sigh.
The day begins...
It wasn't until I wrote it all out in one paragraph that I realized how irrational my morning tirade must sound to a three year old. Pre-child, I used to actually think my morning routine was rushed. Now, it's nothing short of insane.
And yes, we follow all of the advice so liberally shared in parenting magazines. We get up twenty minutes earlier (most days). I make lunches the night before. The bags are packed and at the door. We have lots of quick and healthy breakfast options. But all the preparation in the world can't account for a three year old who realizes he has some power over his mama. He knows I have to get to work, and he knows that drama ensues when he clomps through the living room in his dirty boots.
There was nothing different about my routine the other day. I chanted my morning mantra of madness as I tried to wrestle my son into his winter clothes. The furrow in my brow deepened as I raced towards our caregiver's place. Kieran chattered away in the backseat, asking me question after question, which I answered with robotic predictability.
"When's my birthday, mommy?"
"How old will I be?"
"You're three now. So what's next?"
"Four. I'll be four."
I turned the corner, taking the first sip from my half-empty travel mug. I glanced at the clock. We were running five minutes behind.
"Mommy? When will I be three again?"
"Oh...um...never...you'll only be three once."
We arrived at our wonderful caregiver's house, my eyes red and watery. I paused a little longer as I kissed my son good-bye.
As if this working mom needs to feel more guilty, more torn, than I already do.
But, the funny thing is, I didn't feel guilty.
Not about this, at least.
I have loved the exuberance, imagination, and fickle tyranny of age three. But, I also loved the affection, energy, and intensity of age two. I know there will be things about four that make it my favourite age.
So, while I don't feel guilty, I do feel a little sad. With each year, things change, independence grows, making me glad I followed the advice of so many other parents who told me to enjoy my son while he was young. Enjoy him, I have. Three has not passed me by. And, as we close in on four, I know it won't either.
Maintaining balance takes mindful effort. Sometimes the house is a mess. Sometimes I'm frazzled when I arrive at work. Sometimes I feel like I'm doing too many things and none of them well. There are days when I drop everything to read to Kieran, but there are also times when I tell him to go play because I have work to do. That's life.
It's the impermanence of childhood that makes it so wonderful. And this isn't just Kieran's journey. It's mine too. He'll only be three once, but I'll only be mother to this particular boy, at this particular age, once. So, in between my warnings about spilled coffee and messy hair, I remember to breathe.
And enjoy the last magical months of three.
Even in the morning.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
Here's what I like about these books:
1) post-apocalyptic setting
2) greater themes regarding social justice and distribution of wealth
3) male and female characters are layered, compelling, and mysterious--I can imagine teaching this to a class--both genders would relate
4) violence and danger
5) explore the ethical implications of reality television
6) we get to cheer for the reluctant, adolescent subversive as she defies an authoritarian regime
7) imaginative detail regarding botany and herbal healing
8) cool character names like Gale, Rue, and Glimmer
9) Ms. Collins isn't afraid to kill sympathetic characters
10) THERE'S A LOVE TRIANGLE...TEAM GALE!
I'm just going to go have a "peek" at the next chapter. See you in a few days.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Can anyone else see the "sock entitlement" of my boy's stance? Poppy is much more humble. His is the stance of "he who owns one pair." Even if the toes are oddly pointy...
Crystle recently returned from India where she spent several months working for her NGO, The India Village Fund. Her book, Mommy,When Are We Going Home? will be released in February 2011. Here is the latest article about her in The Brockville Recorder and Times.
Here is the link to The India Village Fund:
Catherine Cavanagh placed second in this year's Brockville Recorder and Times Short Story Contest. Here is her beautiful and compelling story "Hagar."http://www.recorder.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2916982
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
by Andrea Cameron
I spent an hour with you today.
I walked through
my footsteps resounding
in the temple of your hideous secret.
I looked through your barbed wire smile
and stared shamelessly
at your treasure of skulls,
your collection of souls,
taken in terror.
You offer me a tiny shoe,
boast with your photo exibit,
brandish tools of torture,
invite me inside
to gape at your ghastly trophies.
I spent only an hour with you,
and your six thousand faces,
wide-eyed and battered,
their only memorial
trapped behind your rusty grin.
In 1997, I went to Cambodia for Christmas. Just after New Year's, I went to S-21. Formerly Tuol Svay Prey High School in Phnom Penh, this building was turned into a prison in 1975. It was renamed Security Prison (S-21) and was also known as Tuol Sleng. Approximately 20,000 people were detailed in S-21 before being murdered by the Khmer Rouge. Now, the prison walls are covered with thousands of black and white photographs of prisoners, all of whom were killed. There were only seven known survivors.
I wrote this poem shortly after the visit. It was published in Room Magazine a few years ago. I'm glad I wrote this so I wouldn't forget the things I saw.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Here's her quote in today's Globe and Mail: "If you become a reader, you have a chance to become a critical thinker, to be a person who has some power over your life."
Our family has enjoyed many of the titles from Groundwood. Our latest read is Doggie in the Window by Elaine Arsenault. Our signed copy was a gift when Kieran was a baby. He loves this story of a costume designing dog.
In the area of young adult, I loved Skim, a graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki. We are also big fans of the Stella books by Marie-Louise Gay.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Just a little.
So...last night we celebrated early with friends and had a great time. It's amazing to me that, given the material overindulgence of the Christmas season, two little boys can still lose their sh-t over party hats and noise-makers. Oh...and Madonna...REAL LOUD! Lots of fun.
And while I always feel optimistic for the new year, my heart aches for those who won't be with us...and for those who have battles ahead. It's a strange time, this New Year's thing. It's a day when we're supposed to think about losing weight and saving money, but it scares me a little. We have this whole other year ahead. And anything can happen. Anything.
So...here's to anything.