Childhood Diaries Long Gone and All Is Well

book-855708_640I had a good laugh when I read Nathalie’s post a couple of days ago, but was surprised at her surprise in discovering the schlock that existed in her diaries.  I’ve known for ages about mine, which is precisely why I have long since recycled all of it.  I’ve never missed it either. Partly because the writing is hopelessly bad, and partly because personally I found being a child quite a bit harder than being an adult, and reading about what now appears to be non-events to my adult self seems to mock the real hardships of that earlier time.

So the crummy diaries are gone – not burned, but gone nonetheless.  I can’t tell you what I wrote in them and all is well.  I can tell you what I wish I had written though, and it might have been something like these excerpts from The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend.  I read this book as a teenager, and was not too much of a child or an adult to appreciate it completely.

~~~

Monday January 12th

The dog is back. It keeps licking its stitches, so when I am eating I sit with my back to it. My mother got up this morning to make the dog a bed to sleep in until it’s better. It is made out of a cardboard box that used to contain packets of soap powder. My father said this would make the dog sneeze and burst its stitches, and the vet would charge even more to stitch it back up again. They had a row about the box, then my father went on about Mr Lucas. Though what Mr Lucas has to do with the dog’s bed is a mystery to me. 

Tuesday January 13

My father has gone back to work. Thank God! I don’t know how my mother sticks him.

Mr Lucas came in this morning to see if my mother needed any help in the house. He is very kind. Mrs Lucas was next door cleaning the outside windows. The ladder didn’t look very safe. I have written to Malcolm Muggeridge, c/o the BBC, asking him what to do about being an intellectual. I hope he writes back soon because I’m getting fed up being one on my own. I have written a poem, and it only took me two minutes. Even the famous poets take longer than that. It is called “The Tap”, but it isn’t really about a tap, it’s very deep, and about life and stuff like that.

The Tap, by Adrian Mole

The tap drips and keeps me awake,

In the morning there will be a lake.

For the want of a washer the carpet will spoil,

Then for another my father will toil.

My father could snuff it while he is at work.

Dad, fit a washer don’t be a burk!

I showed it to my mother, but she laughed. She isn’t very bright. She still hasn’t washed my PE shorts, and it is school tomorrow. She is not like the mothers on television.

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June 28, 1988: The Mystery of the Murdered Kid

I wrote this for creative writing when I was in grade 2.  There are no illustrations, simply text because I was going for “novel” and not “picture book”.   I am surprised that psychological services were never called after I wrote this story.IMG_5742

June 28, 1988 Grade 2

The Mystery of the Murdered Kid

 Once in a land called Monster Berry-Chew, there was a monster called Monster Berry-Chew.

He liked to murder and to pick out the brains and cut off heads. When he cut his nails he didn’t use ordinary scissors. He cut his nails with huge chompers. Now let’s get on with the story.

A very long time ago there was a girl who was hiking. Her name was Sue. She found a cave, a big cave, a big big big cave. Inside the BIG cave was a coffin. She opened it and there was Monster Berry-Chew.

Then he murdered Sue. He got loose and murdered three girls he loved.

When he found out he had murdered the girls he loved, he was very upset because now he was all alone.

Then he found one poor family. He brought everybody back to life, with his powers.

One night the townspeople went to check on Monster Berry-Chew. The monster was not there. They searched and searched.

Then somebody said “He is not here and he won’t be murdering people anymore.”

“You are right,” said the townspeople.

The End.

Nathalie Reads her Teen Journals and Wishes She Had Burned Them

journalI grew up as a TCK.  Third Culture Kid.  We didn’t have a fancy name for it back then, of course.  The closest thing was “military brat,” and who wants to be called that?  We did have second families in schools that housed other kids like us, though, and I will be forever grateful for the international schools that made all of those transitions bearable.  When more than half the class is new each year, it makes it much easier to start over and over and over again.

Anyway, long story short, none of my juvenilia survived the eight country-to-country moves I made before I turned  15.  Photographs of me in hideous outfits, yes.  Evidence of my early literary brilliance, no.

Once my treasured possessions could travel under my steam, which they did when I left for university, my shit stuff traveled with me.  Therefore, the only remaining evidence of my younger writing self is the box full of journals, beginning with myself at 14, that lives under my bed.

I so very much wish I had left them there.  I so very much wish that I had just made up the post that was due for today.  I sit here feeling rather traumatized and thinking that no deadline, no sense of pride in our publishing record of five posts a week for five years, no adoring audience of three friends and several thousand strangers, nothing on earth, in short, could have made it worth wading through so.  many.  pages.  of.  crap.

I put it off until the very last minute.  I assured myself that something funny, something wry would appear in some of those pages.  I have a treasure trove of material under that bed.  How hard can it be to find something funny?  It will be fun, I said.  It will be a hoot, I said.  How bad can it be? I said.

All that and worse.

On the bright side, I will suffer no writer’s block when I sit down tonight and make today’s entry in my gratitude journal.  I am immeasurably grateful that I am not a teenaged girl.  I am also grateful to my very poor memory, and to the empty glass of beer that sits on my desk, that I will soon forget having had to wade through so.  many.  pages.  of.  crap.

After all of that, I leave you with a mercifully brief selection of entries from the journal I kept when I was 15.  Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

::

The ABCs of Teen Love

September 1985

(Please picture big bubble letters, artfully shaded, and little hearts floating around them)

I love Andrew.

October 1985

(Please picture even more elaborate lettering and floating hearts and, God help me, butterflies.)

I love Benjamin.

December 1985

I had decided I needed to type my love.  I filled an entire page with this:

I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  Does Christopher love me?  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.  I love Christopher.

And for some reason, I saw fit to keep it.

Beth-Anne and Carol, good luck to you.

Things We Wrote As Kids

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Podcasts are my new favourite thing. Nathalie and I lost hours of our life to Serial and I listen to Meditation Oasis on my walks back from school drop-off and tune into Ted Talks for inspiration. But when I need a laugh, I stream Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids.

The 60-minute podcasts are exactly what the title states. Grownups read excerpts of their journals, diaries, letters, stories and homework assignments they wrote when they were kids. In front of a live audience. Kudos to them! I don’t know if I would have the courage for public embarrassment.

Rather coincidently my mother dropped off a box of my school days treasures and among the folders are a considerable number of humiliating stories that I wrote while in elementary school. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly name my mother the GREATEST MOTHER EVER because not only did she keep a straight face when I read these aloud to her, she actually wrote supportive notes in the comments section. Bless her.

Without further ado, this week we pay homage to Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids and share with you, a piece of writing from our childhood.

If listening to people embarrass themselves is your thing, Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids is coming live to Detroit, Windsor and Toronto in May. Be sure to check their website for tour dates.

What My Graveyard of DIY Projects Taught Me About Parenting

Behold the graveyard of DIY projects.

There is a box of papers, colorful scissors with various edges, a hodgepodge of stickers, stamps and decals residing on a shelf in my office closet.  Last year I discarded a two-inch stack of recipes torn from magazines promising mouth-watering delicacies.  A clear, plastic, zippered pouch that contains two spools of soft, chocolatey brown yarn and a partially completed scarf resting on needles has followed us to two homes and remains under my bed.

I had never given much thought to the DIY culture until I became a mom and then I couldn’t escape it.  Personalized Valentine’s Day cards, hand-stitched Halloween costumes, laboured over meals, ornately designed snack foods, and play dates requiring more scheduling and production than a low-budget highschool musical seemed to be the norm. I mean, WTF ever happened to just knocking on someone’s door and playing with a Skip-it in the yard while eating FunDip?  And then just when I thought I had it somewhat figured out, Pinterest came along and upped the game.

I spent years on that hamster wheel trying to do it all and do it “right”, but the years have brought me three busy boys, and an acceptance that “good enough” is really good enough.  I learned to identify, appreciate and accept my limitations.

This year I did make my son’s skeleton costume for Halloween but it was the process more than the end product that proved to be “pin-worthy”.  My son and I worked together to turn my son’s vision into reality.  He learned the importance of communication and teamwork.  I learned there are no perfect skeletons but there are happy kids.

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Being honest with myself is difficult.  I used to feel that doing everything for myself was somehow a reflection of my worth as a mother.  If the Valentine’s Day cards were perfect, than somehow this meant that I was a good mother, a kind mother, a patient mother, the mother that we are all supposed to be.  Never mind that it was a grueling process with me snatching the scissors from my boy’s hand while muttering with exasperation, “I’ll do it”.  Never mind that while eating a store-bought birthday cake at little Jimmy’s party or surveying the parade of made in China Buzz Light Year costumes knocking on my door, it never once crossed my mind that these mothers were “bad” mothers, lazy mothers or not the mothers that we are all supposed to be.

I thought that people were judging but it was really me who was doing the judging.

There is a part of me that does long for DIY projects.  I am nostalgic for the lost arts that generations before were commonplace.  I am amazed when my husband fixes things around the house without consulting You Tube.  It’s his confidence that I admire as much as the skill.  Now when I find myself lost in a chosen project, it’s the sense of calm and the absence of expectations that I find as rewarding as the final project.

My experience with parenting and DIY projects is very similar.  At first I was lured by the glossy images promising picture perfection but it’s the fails: the shattered glass, the burnt dough, the botched hemline – that’s when the real learning occurs.  It’s often the most basic projects, the ones that are the least glamorous or fun, that most need mastering and bring about the greatest sense of accomplishment.

The Magic and the Mystery of Making Things

alafoss-lopi-1231I make and craft and create to discover the magic and the mystery in things.  Pickles?  I can make those!  Handknit sweater?  That, too!  A felted handbag?  I learned how to do it one summer seven years ago.  Lip balm?  I made some this year!

What all of these things have in common is not necessity or having to make do or any kind of motive of need or fashion.  Nor is crafting a particular passion.  I can go for months without taking up a new project.

What they have in common is that I wanted to unravel the mystery of something that struck me as beautiful and rare.  I loved making lip balm with my boys not only because it was a great idea for Valentine’s favours, but mostly because it took all of the mystery out of something I use several times a day.  I had been paying an outrageous $40 per tube of lip treatment because after many, many tries, it was the only one that worked.  Learning how to make my own, made cosmetics something totally accessible, and I could control the quality and the contents.  That was a powerful feeling.

I have known how to knit since I was a child, and my mother, bless her patience, helped along many a hobbled project when I was little.  Most of them I abandoned.  In elementary school, I think I may have completed a knitted bear, and perhaps a blanket to go with it, and in high school I made myself one simple summer sweater, but I was not a star knitter by any stretch of the imagination.  My mother was.  She knitted, crocheted and sewed the most beautiful and intricate things.  She always had a project on the go.  When I got to university, and my mother was an ocean away, I happened to see some gorgeous Icelandic wool on sale in a bin in big department store, of all places.  It came in a cellophane package, with about ten balls of wool for the main colour of the sweater and one ball each of the secondary colours.  There was a pattern for a chunky fairisle sweater, and it looked so wonderful for the Montreal winter that was already hinting at its severity.  (I had moved from Egypt.  I was not at all used to Canadian winter.)

I love the internet! This is not the pattern I used 25 years ago, but that's the model, complete with her white headband.

I love the internet! This is not the pattern I used 25 years ago, but that’s the model, complete with her white headband.

At first, I just looked at it longingly, feeling that it was something so far out of my reach, and then I thought, “No, I have what I need to be able to make that.”  I bought the wool and the needles, and I set out to make it.

The only problem was that in all the knitting I had done, my mother had always cast on the stitches for me.  I had never done that alone.  I didn’t have any choice but to go it alone this time, so I taught myself how to cast on simply by closing my eyes and remembering the motions of my mother’s hands as she did it.  There was a trick and a rhythm, and after a few false starts I found them.  I was amazed at the time to have been able to draw that out of my memory.  Muscle memory by proxy.

Making that sweater was so much more than just arming myself for a cold winter.  I felt such a sense of accomplishment in moving myself from beginner to intermediate knitter, and my joy at succeeding at the project was immense.  I wore that sweater for years with great pride.  I made two more, all with the same sense of joy, and with increasing confidence and willingness to improvise with colour and pattern.  It was also contagious: several other women in my dorm went off and bought the same kit, and we’d sit and knit together, avoiding term papers and the drama of the wider world for just that little while.  Making our own sweaters gave us a common purpose and a space apart from the world that worked so hard to define us.

The moment of remembering my mother’s hands casting on my stitches is a touchstone for me.  I think of it often and fondly as a minor miracle of memory and motion and chance.  How many times would I have actually witnessed her casting on stitches?  How carefully was I watching?  I often wonder if or what motions of my hands my own kids will remember years hence.  We don’t plan these moments, but in some way, shape or form, I hope that there will come a time when they are trying something and can close their eyes and see me doing it.

At Issue: Does DIY DYI (Do You In)?

For our At Issue discussion this week, we are looking at the pleasures and perils of doing it yourself.  We will be discussing the debate of whether DIY culture is enriching and helps people to be independent from the marketplace or whether it creates (yet another) sphere in which we are measured against impossible ideals or whether new domesticity amounts to nothing more than a regression to the domestic sphere.

Are you more drawn to Pinterest Fails than Pinterest-worthy pics?  Are you a master or a menace with a power drill?  Do you aspire to be magazine-worthy with your projects and décor, or are you content to either farm out the work or not do it at all?

Join us this week as we discuss our own takes on whether DIY is Doing You In.

jenniferWe are thrilled to welcome as our guest this month Jennifer Flores.  You may know Jennifer already from her amazing design blog, Rambling Renovators.  The blog chronicles Jennifer’s and her husband’s adventures in renovating their 1950s Toronto home.  She keeps it real, and keeps it gorgeous!  Take a tour of her house, and you will see what I mean.  We got to meet Jen in person through a blogging conference that she organizes, Blog Podium.  We have attended for two consecutive years, and we always learn so much from the presenters and other conference-goers.

In the mean time, for a great discussion of the many facets of this debate, check out this review of Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity Ann Friedman summarizes wonderfully the push and pull of feminism, the workplace and the new cult of domesticity.

Toronto Fashion Find: Coats by Mary Ellen for the Perfect Custom Coat

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Years ago Carol once said to me, “You vote with your dollars”. It’s something that stuck. I live in Toronto, a close walk to two major streets that are lined with shops, restaurants and general services. Even if it means … Continue reading

The War on Sugar-AHHHHHH By Guest Bloggers, Leigh and Meg

lollipops-602441_640Our guests this week are Leigh and Meg from the popular motherhood blog, Me and Meg. Leigh and Meg blog about ups and downs of motherhood with just the right amount of snark. They are witty, humble and kick-ass at Cross Fit (and other fitness-y things!). Think you’ve heard of them? I wouldn’t be surprised because they are contributors to Global Morning Show, Parentdish.ca and “What She Said” Canada Talks on SiriusXM Radio.

Thank you ladies for giving us your two cents on this topical issue.

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The War on sugar is real! We fight it daily with our kids. Our war consists mainly of our kids asking for some sugar-laden snack and us saying “no”.  We are very conscious of how much they consumer daily. That means water is what you can find in their bottles always and they rarely get anything at the arena snack bar – we are real drags as mothers.

It doesn’t stop at sugar, what about preservatives! There is a whole world of bad food out there worth avoiding….

What we have seen happen in our children’s school is an increase use of candy as a reward in class, quite the opposite of a sugar ban.

With so many “fads”  one can prescribe to now and ever-changing research on the food industry it’s difficult to say what is the right choice or the “most” healthy for our children – just ask a vegetarian or talk to someone who adheres to a paleo diet. Could you find a larger chasm in what is nutritional and optimal for our health than that? Recently we read that it’s not sugar itself that is the nasty school yard
bully but sugar and fat TOGETHER. Right okay. Like ice cream, give us some. Our kids go crazy over it too. Do we think it’s bad for their overall health? No.

Do we think a world where schools do not allow sugar is the right choice? No, that’s ludicrous. The path to a healthy lifestyle involves moderation, which means having the odd juice box, and treat. We are better off teaching our kids what healthy choices are and empowering them to make well-balanced decisions.

The schools should focus on a holistic approach to health, remember getting changed for gym class? We do. Our kids don’t do that. Let’s bring back physical activity EVERYDAY in our schools and not make any one food forbidden.

As for the  birthday treats at school-we say skip those too.

Banning Sugar In Schools Doesn’t Teach Healthy Habits

cake-pops-684163__180Not that long ago there was some discussion at the neighbourhood school my boys attend, how to greatly reduce the amount of sugar the students were consuming while on the premises.

A naturopathic doctor, also a parent to two young boys, gave a compelling presentation about the health and behaviour benefits to cutting back the white stuff, and successfully riled up the parent population with suggested action items.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: one sure-fire way to ignite controversy and polarize a group is to change-up the status quo.

Back when I was a kid, we’d walk the ten minutes to school in the pouring rain toting our umbrellas and like a growing snowball collect kids along the way and after school we’d knock on doors, ride bikes and play a good old fashioned game of kick the can. Not really, but you get the picture. We weren’t developing carpel tunnel syndrome by age 12 and taking selfies to document every minute of teenage angst.

When I was growing up sugar wasn’t the evil, it was fat and cholesterol. A few spandex clad mothers could be heard espousing the benefits of the 20-minute work-out, Jane Fonda and the AB Roller while pouring a healthy dollop of Lite salad dressing over iceberg lettuce. Butter, eggs, oils, red meat, all of it was eschewed until the mid 90s when Barry Spears revolutionize the diet world with The Zone and all of a sudden steak and eggs reclaimed their clout in the grocery cart.

As a kid I enjoyed donuts, candies and cupcakes.   Mrs. Dickson used to make the best cupcakes, with lots of icing and sprinkles so when it was her son’s birthday and she came into the classroom, I made sure to not be the last in the line-up. When a French teacher would toss out mini-sized chocolate bars for correct answers, we’d know that she was in a good mood and Mr. MacDonald used to let us pop balloons for prizes: a weekend with the class budgie, an afternoon in his chair, giant, over-sized chocolate bars our parents would never buy.

I used to peddle my bike to the corner store (about 15 minutes away and across a busy intersection) with my friends. We’d return our books to the library and then go the Village Market, to see how many Hot Lips and sour keys our change could buy us. A lot more than today’s pennies, that’s for sure.

But now I am a grown-up and I am the one making the decisions.

Do you want to know something? My shoulders are sore from the burden of expectations.

I have come a long way with not caring what people think about my parenting. The proof is in the pudding, I like to say, and I am playing the long game. I don’t always choose the healthiest or freshest or more local foods for my kids. In fact, last night they ate an entire party-sized pizza while they watched TV, and I basically ignored them to read the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

We have a treat bucket overflowing with candy and there it stays. My boys choose something from it once a day, but they could take it or leave it.   Sunday afternoons I bake something – cookies, brownies, macaroons, Hello Dollies – whatever the request but after the initial fanfare that accompanies the trays being pulled from the oven, the cookies will remain in the jar. Nibbled on, but never gorged. The piano teacher, friends popping by and play date guests are usually the ones to grab at the goods. For my kids, it’s part of the landscape, like the wallpaper. It’s just there.

Have you heard of Snowplow Parenting? If Helicopter parent was the term of yesteryear, then Snowplow parent is the term for now.

Snowplow parents: defined by some of the extremes they take in their children’s lives. When you take the snowplow route, you are teaching your child that someone will always step in to make things right, and therefore no initiative is required on the kid’s end.

That’s how I feel about removing sugar from schools. It doesn’t teach children how to make good choices it simply removes the obstacle for them. I am a believer that diets need to be balanced and healthy, and that includes sugar. It doesn’t mean scarfing down an entire box of Krispy Kremes (guilty!) on a regular basis but having a lollipop while watching a movie, is ok in my books.

It does get tricky in schools when parties and birthdays are celebrated with food, but that’s a learning opportunity in itself. Instead of banning sugary treats empower children with decision-making.  With parents and schools being more aware of and considerate of allergies, replacing birthday cupcakes for an non-edible treat (pencils, erasers, etc) is an obvious option.  There is also the option of a paper crown and singing Happy Birthday.  Simple.  But it’s about learning when and how to celebrate with treats.

It saddens me to see so many grown women (and some men) with unhealthy relationships with food, swinging from fad diet to fad diet, depriving themselves of food groups, binge eating; all of these behaviours leading to body image issues.

Here’s my question: With as much emphasis we’re placing on reducing sugar and getting our children active, why isn’t there more of an uproar over cut PE classes and revoked recesses (as punishment or to pack in more instructional time for core subjects)? Why do high school students only need one PE credit to graduate?

If I had things my way, we’d focus on healthy living where exercise is valued for more than just fitting into skinny jeans, where real food was consumed more than “fake food” and we would all chill out!