Sunday, December 21, 2008

Keeping Up with the Clauses

While chatting with my friend a few weeks ago, I asked her what her son (who is the same age as mine) is getting for Christmas. I won't repeat what my verbal reaction was to her response of, "a laptop. That's his big gift". Good grief, I should certainly hope so.

Every evening we listen to "Letters from Santa" on the radio, and it astounds me what children are asking for this year. Instead of dolls and trucks, the kids wanted digital cameras, four-wheelers, cell phones, and "a Wii". A Nintendo Wii is a video gaming system that costs almost $400, and that's not including games or extra controllers, which are also very pricey.

Another friend of mine was supposed to come over for lunch last week since she was going to be in town shopping. She called that morning to cancel, and said she wasn't coming after all, since her loan wouldn't be processed until the following day. Huh? I came to find out the woman was borrowing $2000 from the bank in order to buy presents.

Yesterday I was picking up a lay-away, and there was a young woman in line ahead of me. When the sales associate emerged from the back room, she and two other workers were carrying more boxes than I could shake a stick at. It was a sea of pink - all toys for little girls, from Easy Bake Ovens to Barbies to Hanna Montana swag. I couldn't help but be curious as to how much this woman's order was going to cost, especially when she needed three carts to hold it all. I'll cop to bending my ear slightly to hear the cashier tally up the toys, and I'll also cop to nearly wetting my pants when she said $948. Be still my heart. At this point I couldn't resist; "How many kids do you have," I asked her. Her answer: two. In case you're interested, that's $474 per. And that's just from one store.

The breaking point for me was last night, when I found myself wrapping presents for my dog, Bear MacDonald. Me! Wrapping dog presents! What has happened to us?

Many years ago, kids were thrilled to wake up Christmas morning to see a present under the tree. Present, singular. I doubt in the days of the Great Depression that folks were spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment on their children.

As a matter of fact, Christmas, as a holiday, has undergone a complete transformation in the years since our grandparents were young. It used to be a time for celebrating the religious aspects of December 25th, of being with family, and enjoying a nice meal if you were lucky. Gifts have always been part of the deal, I suppose, but back in the day they were of secondary importance to attending mass and celebrating family.

I'm not suggesting you should burn your tree and head to church, but one thing I have realized, after years of trying to "keep up with the Clauses", is that the best parts of Christmas have nothing to do with presents. When I walk into the mall the third week in October and see holly and chocolates everywhere, it automatically makes me cranky. Shopping has turned into hysteria, and the stress involved in making a list, roaming the stores for hours, people bumping into your cart, kids screaming - that's not fun or festive. Neither is having kids tear open wrapping paper, glance at a toy, and toss it aside to get to the next one.

I like to watch Christmas Daddies on television. I enjoy decorating my house and putting up the Christmas tree (in December, not the day after Halloween). I love to see my kids' excitement when they open their gifts, like anyone else.

However, I refuse to put myself in the hole for the sake of being able to tell my friends about the insane amount of money I spent on gifts. When the wrapping paper is cleaned up and the turkey is gone, the bills still roll in. Does it mean I love my kids any less because I don't spend as much as other parents do? No, not at all. The kids are just as happy to open something that cost $5 as they would be to open something that cost $40.

It's parents who take Christmas to the point of excess, not children. We're setting a dangerous precedent by trying to outdo one another and make each Christmas bigger and better than the one before.

I should mention, the presents for Bear MacDonald were a bone, a ball, and a bag of Snausages, purchased for about $6, at the repeated request of my children. I consider it proof that Christmas doesn't have to cost a fortune to make kids happy.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How To Live With a Woman

Talking to my other married friends, conversations about our husbands crop up pretty often. On a good day, these conversations probably include praise, and on a bad day, they probably don't.

We all love our husbands, don't get me wrong. They're great men, even acceptable roommates at times. However, there are several very common, very specific habits and behaviors with which most men seem to need a bit of guidance.

(Notice how I said most men, not all men; if the Great October Doggy Debacle has taught me anything, it's that certain groups can be extremely sensitive with generalizations, no matter how humorous my intention. Save your, "I hate you and I hope your dog eats you" mail this time, it's supposed to be funny. Jeez.)

Anyway, if a manual existed, written by wives to help their husbands peacefully cohabitate as married men, I suggest it might contain some of the following passages:

Article 9 - Wives will inevitably spend time on the phone, and certain components of these conversations you must learn to live with. These components include, but are not limited to: call duration, which is under your wife's sole discretion; due to female propensity for conversation, the half-hour long gab-fest your wife had with the same friend already this morning, is not relevant to the current phone call; your wife's index finger sticking up in the air can be translated as "please wait one minute before again inquiring as to the current location of the potato chips, unless you want me to switch fingers."

Article 22a (i)- In a recent study, it was proven that the amount of physical human energy required to lift the lid on a laundry hamper is .0035kW, roughly the same amount of energy exerted when blinking. Since the release of this data, the World Coalition of Wives (WCW) has unanimously decided that dirty laundry left ON TOP of or BESIDE the hamper, instead of IN the hamper, can, without consequence, be burned in a hole in the back yard.

22a (ii) - There shall be no return guarantee should any of the following items be left in the pocket of previously-worn jeans: paper money, coins, tissue, receipts, bank cards, screws/washers/bolts of any kind.

22b - Since exertion data is similar to that of hamper lids, cupboard doors shall be taken off the hinges and placed on the kitchen floor should they regularly be left open, hopefully serving as a reminder that simply closing them when you're done is much less tedious than reinstalling them.

Article 35a - While you will be attracted to other women, as is only natural, the following subjects should not be included in spousal conversations about this issue: Angelina Jolie, Christina Aguilera, sister-in-law, wife's best friend, any woman you work with. The following women are acceptable alternatives: Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, any 80s super model, Cindy Day.

35b - The following men are to be acknowledged as subjects women worldwide are allowed to drool over without recourse: Richard Gere, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, brooding British/Irish/Australian men, anyone who used to be/is/might someday become a Calvin Klein underwear model, former teen heartthrobs, professional athletes, selected persons in uniform.

Article 41 - It is never a good idea to discuss your wife's weight. There is no wiggle room in this clause and it is the only area of a relationship where honesty has no value. Unless a forklift is required to transport her to the grocery store or it has become necessary to physically cut her out of the house, the issue of weight should be ignored at all costs. (Note about the theory that suggests women gain 15lbs once they become comfortable and secure in a relationship. While the WCW acknowledges the validity of this theory, it is relative to the theory whereby men not only gain a few pounds themselves, but also cease performing any romantic or spontaneous gesture, usually at the same point in said relationship; hence, both are cancelled out and should not be issues of contention.)

Article 50 - The number of pairs of shoes required by any wife can be calculated according to the following formula: divide the number of pairs by the square root of the number of delicious meals you've consumed in the past year, add 14, subtract the number of recent unprovoked crying jags, multiply by the hypotenuse of her happiness, and there's your answer. Or you could just trust that she needs more than one pair for work and one pair for church, and leave well enough alone. The latter might be a wiser option, especially since you've yet to explain why you need 16 hammers.

There you go ladies, I've done my part. You might want to keep an eye out for excerpts from the rebuttal manual, though.

I feel it necessary to give credit to my friend Lianne for the "hypontenuse/square root" stuff. Though her formula was different and for another topic entirely, I stole the idea and the words and the comedic mathematics from her. I don't think she'll mind too much, since now I'm going to refer you to her very excellent and hilarious blog, the link for which can be found on the left of this page. It's the bloggideeblogblog one. Good reading.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Still Dwelling

The Christmas decorations everywhere might indicate that it's too late for an article about Halloween, but I'm sorry, I just can't stop dwelling. Let me explain why.

Once upon a time, what seems simultaneously like yesterday and like one hundred years ago, October 31 was a special and exciting day. For weeks, children would plan their Halloween costumes, taking care to consider every detail and accessory. We'd discuss it amongst our friends, talk it over with our parents, and the anticipation was almost too much.

The school costume parade was so much fun! It was always after lunch, so our entire lunch hour was spent putting on make-up or masks, or, if we were lucky, that colored hair spray that cost way too much before the days of dollar stores. We'd all line up in the gym, and prizes were awarded to the most creative costumes.

Once we arrived home, it was all our parents could do to keep us in the house for long enough to have supper, since we were so anxious to go trick-or-treating. This part of the night was also well planned; our routes had been mapped for days, and we were intent on achieving maximum candy acquisition with minimal transit time. Because, at the end of the day, it was all about the treats.

We lived in a rural community, which meant after we had done most of our immediate area on foot, one of our parents had to drive us around, while the other stayed behind to pass out treats. We we knew the spots where all the "rich people" (those who passed out full-size chocolate bars or cans of pop) lived, who gave you fudge, and who would keep you inside talking for 10 minutes. Everybody was home, and every house passed out treats.

I don't think we ever arrived home with less than a full garbage bag of loot, and while some things disappeared quickly, there were always bags of chips and those gross molasses candies remaining weeks after.

What you just read is a true story, kids. It happened to me, every year.

My awesome Halloween memories have translated from excitement about going out, to excitement about being a person who passes out treats. This year, in addition to the severed heads, ghosts, and bats hanging about my yard, I created a small cemetery. It took me a long time to cut tombstones out of styrofoam, carve words and designs onto them, paint them, mount them, and set them up. I put fake blood dripping down some, rats and spiders sitting on others, and even a zombie crawling out of the ground. With all the decorations and lights, I thought my house was just the kind of house we'd have flocked to as kids.

And in preparation for that, since I live in a neighborhood with lots of children, I went out and bought enough treats for 120 kids. I had chips, bars, candies, suckers, everything you can imagine stuffed into treat bags and waiting to be given out. I lit up the Halloween village on the table by my entrance, saw my little Buzz Lightyear and Scream Ghost off with their dad, and waited for the crowds to arrive.

In 3 hours I saw 12 kids. Of those 12, only about half were wearing costumes. One was a 6'4" tall ninja with a deeper voice than my husband, who arrived with a goblin-masked friend smoking a cigarette, and a pirate who drove the car they pulled up in.

Kids, you have to realize when you go to houses on Halloween night, people give you free candy! Just for showing up! Has that fact become unknown in recent years? Because if I was shorter and more selfish, I'd be throwing on some She-Ra garb and making a killing.

It's very sad for me to see such a special tradition from my past become so unceremonious to this generation of kids. With the mass retail bombardment that's common for every "holiday", I would have expected Halloween to be bigger and better than ever. But it seems that kids aren't all that interested anymore, and what a shame that is.

When did 11-year-olds start finding more enjoyment in smashing pumpkins than going door to door for treats? When did a school sweatshirt, jeans, a baseball hat and a face with a few black make-up streaks become a costume? And, most importantly, where have all the kids gone? Are they home playing X-box? Did they not get the memo about free candy?

I don't care. I'll still decorate my house like the crazy Halloween lady every year in hopes that someday things will get back to the way they used to be.

Until then, I'm stuck with 100 bags of Cheetos and a Christmas tree to put up.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Here Kiddie Kiddies

Dear Trick-or-Treaters/their parents:

I'd like to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, what seems simultaneously like yesterday and like one hundred years ago, October 31 was a special and exciting day. For weeks, children would plan their Halloween costumes, taking care to consider every detail and accessory. We'd discuss it amongst our friends, talk it over with our parents, and the anticipation was almost too much.

The school costume parade was so much fun! It was always after lunch, so our entire lunch hour was spent putting on make-up or masks, or, if we were lucky, that colored hair spray that cost way too much before the days of dollar stores. We'd all line up in the gym, and prizes were awarded to the most creative costumes.

Once we arrived home, it was all our parents could do to keep us in the house for long enough to have supper, since we were so anxious to go trick-or-treating. This part of the night was also well planned; our routes had been mapped for days, and we were intent on achieving maximum candy acquisition with minimal transit time. Because, at the end of the day, it was all about the treats.

We lived in a rural area, which meant after we had done most of our immediate area on foot, one of our parents had to drive us around, while the other stayed behind to pass out treats. We we knew the spots where all the "rich people" (those who passed out full-size chocolate bars or cans of pop) lived, who gave you fudge, and who would keep you inside talking for 10 mnutes. Everybody was home, and every house passed out treats.

I don't think we ever arrived home with less than a full garbage bag of loot, and while some things disappeared quickly, there were always bags of chips and those gross molasses candies remaining weeks after.

What you just read is a true story, kids. It happened to me, every year.

My awesome Halloween memories have translated from excitement about going out, to excitement about being a person who passes out treats. This year, in addition to the severed heads, ghosts, and bats hanging about my yard, I created a small cemetery. It took me a long time to cut tombstones out of styrofoam, carve words and designs onto them, paint them, mount them, and set them up. I put fake blood dripping down some, rats and spiders sitting on others, and even a zombie crawling out of the ground. With all the decorations and lights, I thought my house was just the kind of house we'd have flocked to as kids.

And in preparation for that, since I live in a neighborhood with lots of children, I went out and bought enough treats for 120 kids. I had chips, bars, candies, suckers, everything you can imagine stuffed into treat bags and waiting to be given out. I lit up the Halloween village on the table by my entrance, saw my little Buzz Lightyear and Scream Ghost off with their Dad, and waited for the crowds to arrive.

In 3 hours I saw 12 kids. Of those 12, only about half were wearing costumes. One was a 6'4" tall ninja with a deeper voice than my husband, who arrived with a goblin-masked friend smoking a cigarette, and a pirate who drove the car they pulled up in.

Kids, you have to realize when you go to houses on Halloween night, people give you free candy! Just for showing up! Has that fact become unknown in recent years? Because if I was shorter and more selfish, I'd be throwing on some She-Ra garb and making a killing.

It's very sad for me to see such a special tradition from my past become so unceremonious to this generation of kids. With the mass retail bombardment that's common for every "holiday", I would have expected Halloween to be bigger and better than ever. But it seems that kids aren't all that interested anymore, and what a shame that is.

When did 11-year-olds start finding more enjoyment in smashing pumpkins than going door to door for treats? When did a school sweatshirt, jeans, a baseball hat and a face with a few black make-up streaks become a costume? Why are there as many high schoolers at my door as little children? And, most importantly, where have all the kids gone? Are they home playing X-box? Did they not get the Halloween memo? You know, about the free candy and everything?

I don't care. I'll still decorate my house like the crazy Halloween lady every year in hopes that someday things will get back to the way they used to be. Until then, I'm stuck with 100 bags of Cheetos and a yard to clean.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Prop 8

While Americans are basking in the joy of an exciting and historical election and anticipating a new Presidential administration, other election-night results aren't quite so hopeful.

Residents of California were asked on their Tuesday ballots to vote on Proposition 8, a Constitutional amendment governing the legality of gay marriage. Each side of the issue campaigned vigorously over the pastfew weeks. As I'm writing this, two days after the election, it looks as though Prop 8 has passed in California, making same-sex marriage illegal. (I should note, Arizona and Florida, in their own Propositions, voted the same way.)

Even though Nova Scotia is far ahead of it's time in matters of same-sex marriage and benefit equality, homosexuality is an uncomfortable topic for many people, especially in small, rural areas. You may disagree with homosexuality; you may think it's immoral or wrong or against your religion. You may not have ever been exposed to gay culture and just don't understand it. Regardless of why you don't look positively at homosexuality, in today's society it doesn't really matter. There are gay people in St. Peter's, Port Hawkesbury, Cregnish, Mabou, Little Anse, Guysborough, Canso, Chapel Island, and everywhere in between, and no individual's or group's moral self- righteousness is going to change that. I'm not here to debate morality. Gay people are here, they're not going away, and everyone has to either accept that or move to the moon, where, to my knowledge, there aren't any gay people. Yet.

The problem with Prop 8 is the civil rights violation associated with its passing.

Gay people are people, in the same way as white people are people, ugly people are people, racist people are people, and people who eat their own boogers are people. Is every person the kind of person we want to be? No. Some aren't even the type of people we'd want to be in the same room with. But there's no denying that they are indeed people, all with the same rights as human beings as I have.

Just because someone is Asian, should they not be entitled to a fair trial in a court of law? Just because someone is disabled, should they not be able to bear children if they so choose? Just because someone is gay, should they not be able to get married? Some say "apples and oranges". I say making same-sex marriage illegal is no different than squashing a woman's right to vote.

Proponents of Prop 8 will argue, "our Constitution says that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and that's the way it should stay." Really? The same Constitution written 158 years ago? The one that's had to be amended over 500 times? The one that, up until a few decades ago, still recognized women as inferior citizens by "modern moral standards"?

Change is necessary as civilization evolves, and this Proposition is a perfect example of small-minded people being resistant to change.

There is no reason that a definition of marriage can't be between one consenting adult citizen and another consenting adult citizen. No reason, that is, except arbitrary notions of morality and religion which are debatable from a theological standpoint and irrelevant from a legislative one.

What makes this issue even more discriminatory is that, as of June 17 of this year, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is perfectly legal, and almost 20,000 same-sex couples have married since. The passing of Prop 8 calls into question whether these marriages will be retroactively annulled by the constitutional change. Imagine finally marrying the person you love and then having the government tell you it was all a farce, because other people don't agree with your choice. Talk about inequality.

I take the institution of marriage very seriously. It is very important to me that I am a wife, that the man I live with is my husband, and that we're recognized that way in both a legal and societal context. But it seems to me that people are ignoring the integral fundamentals of the concept of marriage and misguidedly concentrating on the language used to define it. Anyone in a marriage can tell you that two people's physical ability to produce children has little to do with their ability to sustain a productive and loving union. Marriage is about love, commitment and partnership, not anatomy. There are heterosexual couples the world over who cheat on each other and otherwise destroy the sanctity of marriage, while there are same-sex couples who are model examples of what a good relationship should be.

Who are we to dictate the extent of someone else's happiness, especially when that happiness harms nothing more than the status quo?

With Prop 8's passage, people in California might have lost the same-sex equality battle, but I have a feeling they will, rightly, win the war.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A "Ruff" Reality Check

Quite an elaborate event it was, this party for Winston, my sister's baby. Let me give you the highlights.

The house was decorated with balloons, banners, and streamers. My sister had made individual cakes for every guest, sparing no expense and leaving out no detail. The guests arrived with their gifts in tow, the girls dressed in pretty pink dresses and the boys donning special birthday hats, and they all played together and posed for pictures. By all accounts, this birthday extravaganza was a great success.

Due to a prior engagement, my MacDonald clan was unable to attend Winston's first birthday celebration, but fortunately for everyone, pictures of the entire grand affair were posted on Facebook within hours.

At this point I'll mention, Winston is a dog.

The extent of this insanity almost has me at a loss for words. Almost.

I''m not a dog-hater. When I was about a year old, my parents got me a dog, a Retriever-Collie mix, who was the most gentle and mild-mannered pet in the world. Poor old Sherry lived until I was 12, and when she got sick and we had to put her down, I remember being upset that whole day. I don't recall needing Ativan or therapy, though.

Now our family has a medium-sized white dog named Bear MacDonald (not just Bear, but Bear MacDonald, as my youngest is quick to point out in any discussion). We're not sure exactly what kind of dog he is, but for reasons it would take too long to explain, we call him a Glace Bay Shih-Tzu. He's generally well behaved, and definitely a great dog to have with kids. I like our dog for the most part, although I could do without the shedding and necessity of hiring a dog-sitter every time we go away for the night. I mean really, a dog-sitter? One of the annoyances of pet ownership, I guess.

Would I be sad if something bad happened to Bear MacDonald? Yes, I would. I'd probably miss the sight of him playing with the kids and how happy he looks when we pull up in the car.

But would I need to be hospitalized to deal with my grief? Probably not.

What is it with people and their dogs? I'm not trying to generate nasty e-mails for myself, because I know a lot of people have great affection for their pets, but somewhere along the line people have forgotten that there is a difference between dogs and humans.

My sister is a maniacal example. She takes Winston for manicures and pedicures and fluffing and quaffing appointments on a very regular basis, and considers this pampering to be just a regular budgetary expense. Are you kidding me? I haven't had a manicure in years! When I have the extra money and time set aside, you can be sure I won't pile Bear MacDonald into the car to make sure he gets the royal treatment first. Dogs lived for thousands of years without esthetic services; I doubt this generation of pooches would be any worse off without them.

Now let's move on to clothes. "Dog" does not belong in the same sentence as the word "sweater", people. It just doesn't, period. It's always the people who claim to love their dog the most, who insist on dressing it up as a witch for Halloween, or something just as cruel and ridiculous, all for the sake of laughing at it and taking a picture. Animals aren't meant to wear clothes, and certainly not any that cost more than the ones I'm wearing right now. Sheesh.

Lastly, I'll tell you about the experience that led up to me writing this article. The whole buy-a-small-dog-and-carry-it-around-like-a-purse thing, and every Paris Hilton-esque habit that goes along with that, has been annoying me for quite some time, but recently one of these delusional dog-people said something that really insulted me. This person actually sat in my living room, tickling her pooch's belly and coochie-coochi-coo-ing with such obliviousness and ignorance that only a young 20-something could muster, and told me that my kids were no more special than her dog. And she meant it sincerely. Imagine.

To those people, I can only say: wake up. Your dog is cute. Your DOG. That you bought. That can't speak to you. That licks his privates when he's bored. That sniffs other dog's bums.

Sorry to all the dog lovers, but I'm hoping most of you realize that children are in a different league. If you disagree, please never have children. Just get another dog - a small one named Daughter of Nutcase with red-painted claws and wearing a Burberry jacket.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Where Were You?

In the fall of 2001, I was sent to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories for a work conference. The prospect of traffic and crowds and noise, after being stuck in Nunavut for over a year with none of those things, was exciting indeed.

Meetings and training occupied most of my days over the course of the week-long conference. My evenings were spent shopping, dining, and walking around the city. I bought almost an entire new wardrobe, I ate at beautiful restaurants, I saw trees, and I acted every bit the tourist that I was.

After full days of working and spending money, I'd retire to my plush hotel room to watch television and get a good night's sleep. The hotel, meals, cabs - the whole shot - was paid by my employer, and I was loving every minute of my all-expense-paid vacation.

The night before I was scheduled to leave, I was in my room, packing and organizing my things, eating Chinese take-out, and watching music videos. I considered how lucky I was to be laying on a king-size bed in a terry bathrobe and slippers, with nothing to do but relax. Though I could have used a few more days of civilization, I was satisfied with my trip and anxious to return to Iqaluit. The time away had done me plenty of good, but now it was time to head back to the real world. I re-checked my plane ticket, ordered a wake-up call, and fell asleep soundly. Life was good.

My flight was scheduled to leave at 8:40am on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

I woke up early that morning, at around 5:30am, so I'd have plenty of time to check out and get to the airport. After my shower, I turned on the television for some background noise and began getting ready. I barely noticed that the music videos had stopped and two people were speaking live, but a few unusual words caught my attention. Events in New York...urging everyone to turn on the news...pray for us all...what? What are they talking about?

I flipped through the channels without knowing what I was looking for, unaware of how many thoughts could swirl around in a person's head in just a few seconds. It didn't take me long to find live feed of the Twin Towers. Had I not received that ominous forewarning, I'd have thought I was watching a movie.

Two planes? That can't be a coincidence, can it? Wait, what time is it in New York? 9:20am. Wouldn't most people have been at work when this happened? How many people work in those buildings? How many per floor? How many floors would be taken out by a direct hit from a commercial airline? Were there passengers on these planes? How many people are already dead?

There were so many questions and so many frightening possible answers.

At some point, a room service lady had come into the room with my breakfast and noticed what was on the television. She sat beside me at the end of the bed and we both watched in silent astonishment. I doubt it was common for hotel staff to invite themselves into an occupied room, or for the occupant to not notice or care, but it was a unique circumstance. We never even spoke to each other.

And then the Pentagon.

What's going on here? Was it another plane? Isn't the Pentagon one of the most secure buildings in the world? There were already two crashes, why isn't anyone stopping these people? For God's sake, who are these people? Who would do something like this?

I was informed by someone that all flights in North America, mine included, had been grounded, so I was glued to the television without distraction. Maybe I was just too terrified to move. After the Pentagon, I watched news unfold of the other plane crashing in Pennsylvania. I watched the towers fall, two iconic pieces of New York landscape reduced to rubble in a matter of seconds. I heard panic and fear in the voices of firefighters, news anchors and families missing loved ones. Was this attack over? Or is this the beginning of Armageddon?

Many questions from that day remain unanswered more than seven years later. We can put the memory of that day behind us, but only until we relive the panic of the early hours, and our pulse starts to increase. And why shouldn't it? That's the morning the world, our lives, changed forever.

I don't why it's so important for people to share their story, but it seems to be important to just about everyone. Feel free to tell me yours.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Praising My Pedagogues

With the new school year upon us, I thought I'd devote an article to something I think is very important: teachers.

My success in school is thanks in large part to a few outstanding teachers I was lucky enough to be placed with. Folks talk about the value of teachers all the time, but not many receive the appreciation they deserve. I'd like to give shout-outs to a few of my favorites.

My very first teacher was Mrs. Tena Touesnard from River Bourgeois. I came home from school every day and told my dad a new story about the famous "Mrs. Twa-nore", so much so that a variation of the word "Twa-nore" is his nickname for me to this very day. Had I had any other teacher my first day, I might never have had a positive attitude about school like I did. So thank you, Mrs. Touesnard.

In grade one, and in later grades as well, I had Mme. Madeline Boudreau. She is largely responsible for the successful formation and promotion of a dance group I was in with two friends, called "The Awesome Threesome" (insert snicker here, but being 11 we didn't know any better). We danced to popular mid-90's music, even travelling to other schools in the area to perform. We wore black stirrup pants and neon t-shirts, on purpose. I'll give you a moment to regain your composure.
Done laughing yet? Good, thanks.

As I was saying, Mme. Boudreau was a great advocate for girls in our school, and she encouraged us to use every skill we had, be it essay writing or dancing, to better ourselves. Thank you for that, Mme. Boudreau.

One of my favorite teachers ever was Mr. Marcel LeBlanc in grade four. He wasn't big on homework for the sake of homework, especially if you knew how to do it already. His class was fun, and he even gave us gum sometimes, which is a big deal in grade four. I got my first 'B' in Mr. LeBlanc's class, and I remember him trying not to laugh when I stood bawling at his desk in anguish. He "reworked" the numbers and bumped it up to an A-. I've never forgotten than, Mr. LeBlanc.

Since Language Arts was always my favorite subject, Mrs. Leona Campbell & Mrs. Lynn Wambolt were probably the two most influential teachers I ever had. Both decided early on that they would not settle for less than I was capable of, and when I got lazy with my work, they called me on it and quickly put me back in gear. They fostered my love of books and writing, and made me believe I was smart. For this, I will be eternally grateful.

Also on my favorites list from elementary school is a rather dry fellow by the name of Mr. Joe Cooke. At 13, we weren't old enough to appreciate his unique brand of sarcasm and humor, but looking back, he was quite funny. All I can do to thank you, Sir, is to apologize for being so terrible in math. It just never took.

High school, as it was for most people, was less about education and more about socializing for me. My record isn't quite as stellar from my time at SPDH, but there were still a few very patient teachers who kept me on track.

Shout out to Mr. Dave Fraser, who I know is reading this. Hi, Dave! We all loved his computer class, probably much more than it loved us. But thanks.

Mr. Hilary Campbell was everyone's favorite. He worked you hard and didn't put up with much baloney, but man, he was good for a laugh. Every day he had a joke to tell us, and when we got too rowdy, he'd say, "you guys be quiet, it sounds like Wal-Mart in here!" My friends and I talk about you often, Mr. Campbell.

Last but not least, Mr. Keith MacDonald, my grade twelve English teacher. He had little patience for people who didn't apply themselves, but what an amazing mentor for those of us who enjoyed writing and being nerds. I could have conversations with Keith that were at once educational, practical, and inspirational. More than anyone else, he made me want to succeed in whichever field I chose. In fact, when I first started writing for The Reporter, Mr. MacDonald is one of the first people I contacted to share the news. It's amazing the clarity and motivation that comes with having pieces of chalk thrown at you until you get an answer right. Thanks, Keith.

Next time you see a former teacher, it's worth your time and energy to stop and say hello, I'm sure they'd appreciate it. And God knows, having put up with us, they deserve it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Dreaded Nunavut Articles, Part 2

In my last blog, I outlined my lonely 10-month stay in Qikiqtarjuaq on Baffin Island.

As I mentioned, I was very optimistic about my move to Iqaluit. I had been hired for a job so very out of my league, that I almost couldn't believe my good fortune. While I did have some experience in the legal field, the position of Executive Director of the Law Society (the Nunavut equivalent to the Nova Scotia Barrister's Society) was a job professionals in "the South" aspired to after many years of education and experience. Here I was, now a 22-year-old, never having made more than $10 per hour or so as a waitress, earning a salary higher than most people who work at NewPage.

That probably sounds great, doesn't it? On paper, it sure seemed to be. It was only when I actually got to know Iqaluit a little better that I realized the cost of making close to six figures.

When I first moved to town, I lived in a place called "White Row", and it was about as glamorous as it sounds. It was a bargain at $800 per month, but it required me to have two roommates, and there was no room to be choosy in that department. The result was me living with a girl around my age, and a much older woman with severe personal hygiene issues.

Since Iqaluit's population was 60% white, I didn't have to deal with a fraction of the racial harassment in the city as I did further North, but the underlying tension was thick enough to cut with a knife. And it was easy to imagine why the native people would harbor such resentment; people living off the land for centuries were suddenly thrust into a completely different lifestyle, and forced to deal with the by-products of that change, many of which were understandably difficult for them to adjust to. I sympathized with the Inuit, and I still do.

The landscape, both in terms of geography and infrastructure, was bleak. Iqaluit is a very barren place. The land itself is always one of two things: white when there's snow, and brown when it melts. There was not even a single tree. You'll never realize how beautiful trees and plants and grass are until you make your home in a place with none.

As far as amenities went, the view wasn't much better. There were a few stores, a bank, a post office, a small movie theatre...necessities, but not many luxuries. When Subway set up camp, a foot-long would set you back an easy $15, but the high cost was welcome considering the frightening local restaurant practices.

Nightlife, while easily a novel in itself, consisted of a bar and the local Legion. So much chaos, misery, destruction, crime, death, and trouble of every variety was generated as a result of alcohol consumption in that city, I can't even begin to describe it to you. Trust me when I tell you, even Cape Breton (with it's reputation for turning out epic partiers) doesn't hold a candle.

I can tell I'm running out of words, and I haven't even made a dent in the story of Iqaluit.

The Arctic is much like a diorama - a world within a world. You can tell people stories about it until you're blue in the face, but no quantity of information can make a person understand life there unless they've lived it themselves.

It's amazing to me, in hindsight, the things we all take advantage of.

Sometimes I find myself just staring outside in the spring. Green is a beautiful color.

To be able to jump in your car and drive somewhere is freedom. I've heard people who live in Fort McMurray complain about isolation, when in fact they have no idea what isolation really is. Isolation is living on an island in the Arctic where there are no roads out. Isolation is having no access to the civilized world unless and until the finances are in place, plans are made, and the weather cooperates. Isolation is having a death in your family in Nova Scotia, and not being able to make it to the funeral on Tuesday because of fog, or because the next flight out only leaves on Wednesday.

To close, I'll tell you there are three very important things I took with me from Iqaluit.

First, I can better appreciate lovely and serene Cape Breton Island.

Second, I have a comaraderie with other "troops who have made it through the war", whether or not we like each other.

Lastly, and most importantly, money can not buy happiness, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise.

I'd love to have Iqaluit's money, but the cost of wealth is greater than I'm willing to pay.

The Dreaded Nunavut Articles, Part 1

I've been asked numerous times to write an article about living in the North. I've been avoiding it like the plague, partly because I don't enjoy reminiscing about my time there, and partly because I know I'll never be able to explain it properly in a single newspaper article.

I've decided to tell you about the Arctic by describing life in the two communities which I called home.

To be clear, in 2000, I moved to a very small town (pop. circa 300) called Qikitarjuaq, a tiny hamlet on the eastern coast of Baffin Island. You'll spend a day trying to figure out how to pronounce it, so let me help: kick-kick-tar-jou-ack.

My record of employment described me as "college professor". I worked at the satellite campus of Nunavut Arctic College, and I was hired to teach an English foundation program for the Inuit students in the community. My lesson plans included Law, Human Relations, Math, and Accounting.

Now I'll tell you what I really did. That "college professor" was just a 21-year-old from Nova Scotia with no Education degree or teaching experience. The satellite campus was a building roughly the size of my living room. The students were random adults who would get a monthly Co-op grocery credit if they enrolled in post-secondary studies. And my lesson plans ended up being scrapped in favor of "this is the letter 'L'. It sounds like 'l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l'."

I was paid almost $50 per hour to teach phonics to non-English-speaking students who had no interest in listening to a single word I had to say.

It's a good thing the money was so over the top. Since there was only one store (the grocery store, with a very limited selection of food and a bit of giftware), I was able to save almost every dollar I made and pay off my astronomical student loans. Thank you, Government of Nunavut.

However, had I been paid even a dollar less, I would have said goodbye to Qikiqtarjuaq long before I actually did. So miserable was my experience there, it couldn't even be thoroughly described in my first, 1800 word draft of this article. I've left out the parts about suicide rates, nail polish remover under lock and key due to substance abuse problems in the community, liquor bans, polar bears, crime, and $70 cans of expired lobster meat. There are bigger issues to tell you about.

Like how, for the first time in my life, I was a very visible minority.

I was one of only a handful of white people who lived in the community. There were only five other women, and none under 40.

You can imagine how much I was liked by the local female 20-something crowd.

My term lasted ten months, and those were the longest, loneliest ten months of my life. I didn't have a single friend. I never left my house once, aside from going to work or the grocery store, mostly because people would call me vile names, accuse me of "stealing their jobs", and throw rocks at me from the open windows of their houses. The only way out was by plane, a once-weekly flight on a five-seater plane that would take you to Iqaluit, from which there wasn't any escape either. It was isolation the likes of which I could never have imagined.

Adding to my experience was the weather. North of 60 degrees latitude, winters cloaked the land 23 hours of darkness. In summer, the opposite, and garbage bags had to be taped to windows since the sun streaming into your bedroom at three in the morning made it too hard to sleep.

I'm sure I don't have to describe the cold, the many days of -50 degrees and icebergs in August. It was misery.

Needless to say, I spent a lot of time reading and missing home.

But what was my alternative? I could come home to toil for minimum wage in Cape Breton, spending almost $2000 on my trip home and never getting ahead; or, I could suck it up, make a mint, and then leave when I was finished. I chose the latter, and at times, I'm glad I did.

After nine months or so, I started applying for jobs in Iqlauit. At the time, a city of a few thousand seemed like a huge metropolis, and I dreamed about the possibility of career success, a great salary, some shopping (finally!), and even some friends. I was hired to be the Executive Director of the Law Society of Nunavut, and after finding an apartment, I booked my flight, packed my things, and left with a big ol' smile on my face knowing I'd never have to set foot in Qikiqtarjuaq again.

Stay tuned for Part 2....


It started with a particular dress I had been looking for. Over the next few weeks, it grew to a few pair of pants and one or two shirts. Three months later, it has escalated into full wardrobes, literally.

Friends, I'm talking about eBay.

I blame the whole thing on my friend Tracey. Should a full-scale intervention ever become necessary, I expect her to be at the core of the rehabilitation efforts.

I had never ordered from eBay before Tracey, like a paid promoter, filled me in on the benefits of shopping on the site. As a huge fan of instant gratification, I wasn't sure that waiting a few weeks for a sweater to be shipped from Kalamazoo was the right move for me, but she assured me it would be well worth the wait.

And she was right. To see the, "Congratulations! You're the winning bidder!" announcement pop up on my screen was pure online bliss. Soon I found myself seeing it more, and more, and get the picture.

Once I had already sold my soul to the eBay demons and was officially addicted, she managed to make things even worse. "Type in 'lot of Old Navy size 10' and watch what comes up," she said. It seemed innocent enough at the time, but little did I know what a massive can of worms I was opening.

Had I known I could buy clothes in lots for my rapidly-growing, notoriously-unconscientious children (who go though clothes as if there are Gap trees growing in our front yard), I would have jumped on that bandwagon long ago.

I won't tell you how many hours I've spent searching that web site for deals on clothes. I won't tell you how many lots I've bid on and lost. Nor will I tell you how many I've won, you'd be disgusted. However, I will tell you that neither of my kids will require new frocks until at least the end of the century.

It's not that they didn't need new clothes; on the contrary, especially with school starting in a few weeks and shorts season winding to a close. But normally fall involves a few new pairs of pants, a few new shirts, a jacket, and a pair of sneakers. This year, some of those items will number in the dozens, which is grossly excessive for a penny pincher like me.

But really, how could I leave it there? Someone is going to make off with a bunch of brand name clothes, most of which aren't even available for purchase in Cape Breton, and sometimes for less than what you'd pay for gas to get to the mall and back. Why shouldn't that person be me?

At least that's what I tell myself to justify my actions. I know how ridiculous it is.

After all, it's not only clothes I buy. A simple conversation about teeth whitening strips, which are available in at least four stores in Port Hawkesbury, turned into a wild eBay goose-chase, in an attempt to find them for cheaper. Thirty mintues and 10cc's of dentist-strength, 65% potent whitening gel later, I had saved myself $25 and a trip to the drug store. Waste of time and energy, when I could have just gone out to buy them that afternoon? Maybe. Waste of money? No way. I'm all about a bargain, waiting or no waiting.

It's actually quite a thrill to go to the post office these days. Will I have a package? Perhaps an envelope? The drive to Pitt Street is filled with the anticipation of finding a little white parcel card in my mailbox. It even feels good when it's jammed in between two bills.

It was at that very place last week when I realized my eBay habit might be a bit much. The woman behind the counter actually commented on how many packages I receive, so after assuring her that the customs declarations were proof of the legality of my transactions (one can ever be too careful in matters of suspicion when it comes to Canada Post), I decided I might need to re-evaluate my shopping situation.

I have vowed to not search for or buy anything else from eBay at least until the rest of my shipments come in. I know that doesn't sound very impressive an act of restraint, but if you were home all day with a laptop, you'd understand. And the way I see it, once I receive all the jerseys, video games, cosmetics, books, Halloween costumes, electronics, kitchen decor, computer software, and action figures, that will probably hold me over for awhile.

In the meantime, I'm going to ask Tracey to help me organize a really successful yard sale. It's all her fault, you know.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


There's a line from the movie Shrek that really struck a chord with me. When Princess Fiona shockingly exclaims that Donkey can talk, Shrek says, "yeah, it's getting him to shut up that's the trick." Whoever wrote that line definitely has kids.

My oldest son was a very early and sudden talker. I have video of him taken at Christmas of 1999, and he was only blurting single words like the usual "mom" and "ba-ba". In a video taken just two weeks later, he was speaking in full sentences, and he was only about a year and a half old.

My friends used to get such a kick out of how much he liked to talk, and the things he was capable of saying. My memory isn't great, and I don't remember a lot of examples of his lingo, but I remember how articulate and witty he was. Older ladies used to approach him in the grocery store and gush over him, "oh, look at the cute little baby! Yes you are! Yes you are! A-pffffftt. A-pffffftt," while poking his belly. Much to their surprise, he'd usually reply with something like, "I don't know you, you are not a-sposed to touch me." He still looked like a baby, but talking to him was like talking to a five year old.

Here we are ten years later, and I promise you he hasn't stopped talking since 1999. The cute factor might have lessened considerably, but that hasn't affected the frequency. I often think he could be used by some police agency to crack criminals into cooperating, because this child could talk someone right to death. And ask questions? Either he's on the world's most epic quest for knowledge, or he just likes the sound of his own voice. Maybe a bit of both.

Some might say he gets it honestly, but that's besides the point.

In the past few weeks I've relived the "just learning to talk" scenario all over again, with my younger son. He's a late talker; he just turned three and only recently has he begun speaking in full sentences. And what sentences they are.
There is nothing funnier than a child finally being able to verbally express what they have probably been dying to get out for months and months.

Fits of frustration and screaming "no!" at the television and the fridge, have been replaced with, "Mom, want to watch Scooby Doo", or "not banana, want some cheese".
Better still, he's been absorbing the same songs and movies and phrases since he was a baby, so to hear him start singing the theme song from The Backyardigans word for word, is great for a laugh. He's nothing if not a fan of repetition, and the movies Cars and A Bug's Life (among many others) have played on a loop in this house for a long time. Now he can quote lines from these movies verbatim.

Unfortunately, my younger son isn't nearly as friendly as the other one was at his age. My older son would have talked to anyone, and usually did. The baby isn't as much of a people person, and strangers don't always get a great reception from him.

For example, the other day at the mall our cart was blocked by someone chatting in the middle of the aisle. My son had no bones about telling the shoppers, "you're in the way! Move your stuff, right now!" Some parents would be embarrassed by an outburst like this, but really, what can you do? They're kids, and they call it like they see it. As much as I hate to say it, I'm used to his abrupt proclamations in the middle of the dollar store; hey, at least he's paying attention.

And it's easier to forgive a few painful moments when they're normally so polite. My kids might regularly speak out of turn, but they have excellent manners. Even the three year old says "pweeze" and "fank you" and "skuze me", and my older son holds doors for people and knows how to give a proper apology.

When you're a stay-at-home mom with small kids, the funny stuff is what gets you through the day. Somehow or another, my youngest has just adopted a British accent, and greets me every morning with a "Hello, Roger!" as if he's straight from the heart of London. You'd have to hear it, but believe me when I say it's hilarious. Also, the vocabulary variations can be quite funny, and I've enjoyed many stories about "bunglebees", "chuckamilk", and how "peckeroni pizza smells like dog poop."

I suppose these years are called "the best years" for a reason, and when the constant chirping in my ear is almost too much to bear, I try to remember how lost we'd be in silence.

Friday, August 1, 2008

In This New Age

What would we do without computers? I like to think it would be easy to revert back to the days of snail mail and encyclopedias, but realistically, I'm not sure I would make the transition so smoothly.

A few short months ago, I decided to solve my chronic computer woes by buying a brand new laptop. As a person who acquired their first computer only three years ago, this was a big deal for me. I'm used to error messages and insufficient space issues from a pre-historic desktop, so in comparison my new computer is like a little slice of technological heaven.

This past week, my laptop's monitor broke. It's a factory problem covered under warranty, but unfortunately it needs to be sent back to Dell for repair, which means I'll be without a computer for almost two weeks. For lots of people, I bet that doesn't even register as a problem. For me, it's a fate worse than death.

When you have the internet, you're used to things being instant. With the internet, my friend from Iqaluit can give me a virtual tour of the house she's planning to buy, from the interior paint to the landscaping. I can see pictures of a baby born in Edmonton before the family even gets home from the hospital. Didn't make it to the wedding in Halifax? No problem, I can watch a video of the bouquet toss the very next morning. My world is literally at my fingertips.

I can't even fathom doing things "the old way". Couple gets married on Saturday in Halifax. They get their film developed on Monday or Tuesday, divvy up a few shots, buy a stamp, and get an envelope mailed out by Friday. The following Wednesday I receive the pictures in the mail, a full eleven days after the wedding took place, and that's assuming we live in some alternate universe where brides make sending pictures to their friends their top post-wedding priority. But it's just one example of how the instantaneousness of the internet has spoiled me.

Perhaps this is a better example: writing this article. Twenty years ago, I'd be writing it by hand. I'd have to count the words manually, proofread it incessantly until I was sure I had caught all the mistakes, type out at least one copy on the typewriter, and deliver it to my editor. Now, with the magic of "backspace", I can write and re-write and edit till my heart's content. Cut and paste my way through spell check and word count software, attach the finished document to an e-mail, and voila - done like dinner. What used to be a week-long project has become a simple, five minute task. It's incredible when you think about it.

Another huge change has been with the concept of reference. You know your product has succeeded when it's name becomes a verb, as I'm sure anyone who has "Googled" something will agree. A high school project used to involve hours of research and perfecting your Dewey Decimal skills, but these days, Wikipedia will tell you all you need to know about Albert Einstein or the history of democracy, or anything else you could possibly need information about, no matter how obscure. Maybe you're like me and appreciate the value of a good old fashioned textbook, but even I'll admit that has been my source on more than one occasion.

And when I'm craving a healthy dose of nostalgia, YouTube is always there for me to rely on. A conversation with girlfriends about how funny an old music video was doesn't have to be fruitless anymore. We may have long since thrown away our VHS of every popular song on Video Hits, but we can watch any video (clips of any show or movie for that matter) by simply typing the name in YouTube search. What a beautiful thing for someone like me who's a bit stuck in the 80s.

Facebook is probably my favorite "tool". Everyone is busy with life, and staying in touch with your friends can sometimes be a challenge, to say nothing of people you've lost touch with. Facebook has allowed me to stay in contact with childhood friends, family members living away, and college buddies. I can see their kids, chat live with them, find out when they're coming home, and the list goes on. As any Facebook regular will attest, you feel a bit out of the loop when you've been off-line for an extended period of time.

And that's my dilemma. The world will continue turning while my computer is being fixed, and I'm sure I'll survive a week or two without the convenience of the internet. It'll just take me a little longer to get caught up with the rest of you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lesson Learned

With temperatures like this, it's easy to get too much sun, especially if you're a thoughtless fool like the girl in this story. Any similarities to persons real or fictional are purely coincidental, but for the sake of making things easy, we'll call her Gina.

A bit of necessary back-story, if I may. A few weeks ago, Gina got a sunburn on her arms. It was a "farmer's tan" - she was wearing a v-neck t-shirt, so only the small exposed area of her upper chest and upper arms burned, while her lower arms tanned. It was painful for days, and she swore she wouldn't leave the house without sunscreen for the rest of the summer. Even worse than the pain was the appearance of this particular burn; the markings looked ridiculous if she wore any shirt that didn't cover the tan lines. Was it fixable? Was she doomed to spend the summer as a multi-tonal freak? Time would tell.

On with the story. Canada Day started as a hazy but comfortable Tuesday in Port Hawkesbury. Wearing her same v-neck t-shirt, the very fair-skinned Gina decided to hold off on the sunscreen, since the UV index didn't seem very high (and being far from a meteorologist, this conclusion was drawn merely from looking out the window that morning).

After about an hour of screaming children, free hotdogs, and lining up to get her three year old on the Bounce-arama at the Grenville Green, Gina and family were done celebrating, and had decided to go to the beach. It would be practically deserted, since most people were at Canada Day festivities, and the kids would have a ball.

Home they went to change, and it was here that Gina had an epiphany: her skin color was completely uneven, and sunbathing on her deck would be both frustrating (with kids running around) and obscene (she's no Gisele Bundchen). What better way to even out her tan than to let it all hang out at a deserted beach? With the car packed, the family headed to Port Hood.

Upon arrival, as always, the first order of business was to coat her kids in four inches of sunscreen. Once finished, it was just Gina, a blanket, the blazing noon-time sun, and her plan of action. She put a tiny bit of sunscreen on the most burnt part of her upper arm, but then all bets were off, and out came the big bottle of Hawaiian Bronze Golden Tanning Oil, which clearly read, "does not protect against sunburn". Somewhere in the deep recesses of her mind, it was totally feasible to blend the multicolored skin with the white skin by turning all the skin a deep brown.

Cut to three and a half hours later, and the family had packed up for the drive back to Port Hawkesbury. Cut to 10pm, and now that the sun had gone down, the extent of the damage was clearly visible. Cut to the next morning, and the pain was almost unbearable. Such is the saga of a sunburn.

However, this was no regular sunburn, oh no. This was the mother of all sunburns that, in her 29 years on earth, she had never suffered through before. I'll give you a few highlights of the effects of using tanning oil on fair skin in 30 degree heat.

Her entire upper body was off limits to everyone, as even an accidental brush to the area produced a yelp and a grimace that would have scared you to death. She was so tense from trying not to move her shoulders, that she ended up pulling two muscles in her back. Sleeping was impossible. Wearing a bra with straps was impossible. Changing her clothes was excruciating. The heat emanating from her body was enough to cook raw meat, yet she sat huddled in a blanket for two days because she had the chills. The skin on her body was too tender and sore to apply any sort of soothing lotion until four days later. Any chore requiring the use of her arms took at least an hour. She was unable to enjoy any of this past week's nice weather because sun exposure was too painful.

Her skin is now a variety of different colors in different spots, including burgundy, red, fuschia, brown, white, and even green (the massive amount of aloe vera lotion used had dyed some spots of skin an emerald color). I'll leave out the details about blistering and layers of fried epidermis coming off. You don't want to hear them, trust me. But know this, I've seen crime scene photos less gruesome than the sight of Gina's upper body.

So kids, the moral of my story is: don't be like Gina. Sunscreen is made for a reason, so use it liberally. She wishes she had.

Summer Lovin'

I thought I'd lighten things up a bit this week and write about the top 5 best things about summer.

Number 5 is esthetic discipline (probably only applicable to women). It's easy to throw on a big sweatshirt and shoes when it's cold out, but once the nice weather arrives, it's time for girls to buckle down and get in gear.

Once shorts and skirts are a daily wardrobe staple, those legs need to be shaved, ladies. I know women who don't shave their legs all winter, and while I'm not one of those women, I think I can speak for the majority when I say that leg-shaving happens much more frequently this time of year than any other. Now guys, I know you're probably grossed out, since in your universe of Jessica Alba et. al. girls are hairless sun goddesses; I don't want to burst your bubble, so forget your read any of that and skip to the next paragraph.

For you ladies, isn't it nice to have a regular routine of toenail-polishing, waxing, tanning, cute-skirt/shirt/sandal shopping? It's easy to get a little careless when there's twenty feet of snow on the ground, but the promise of nice days and fun gatherings always makes me care a little bit more about how I look.

Number 4 is the heat/absence of snow. My favorite season is autumn, but I'll give summer sun it's props when props are due.

The sun shining and birdies tweeting every morning is such a nice change from our most recent, relentless winter. Regardless of Maritimers' penchant for dissatisfaction with the weather, everyone can agree that it's nice to get a break from snow and sleet and driving wind.

We can swim, spend time in the garden, golf till our heart's content, and relish every ray of sunshine that comes our way. And trust me, that's exactly what I'm going to spend the next two months doing.

Number 3 is BBQing. Who doesn't love a good BBQ? I don't know if it's the food itself as much as the BBQing atmosphere as a whole. There is nothing that says "summer" better than a group of people on a patio, steaks and burgers grilling, someone drinking a beer, music playing and everyone laughing and having a great time.

On second thought, maybe it is the food. Leave the fancy steaks and chicken for someone else - hot dogs are my favorite. Years ago, myself and a friend of mine had a little contest to see if we could each eat an entire package of hot dogs BBQed. I don't know if it's funny or kind of disgusting, but we each ate a whole dozen (minus the buns), and it wasn't even a challenge.

I'm that nut you see on her deck in November, parka on, hair blowing around in the wind, trying to squeeze in one more BBQ before it's stored away for the season.

Number 2 is driving. I love to drive. It's very difficult these days to enjoy a good drive, seeing as there are two demanding and talkative kids in the back of our car, but that doesn't stop us from trying.

A perfect evening for me includes a relaxing (ish) drive, cool breeze blowing in the window, listening to The Hawk. This is an activity that is much easier to enjoy in July than it is in, say, February, when your studded tires are barely gripping the ice on the road and the slush slows traffic to a crawl. Yes, it's the summer drive that does it for me.

Number 1 is the beach. I've never been a big beach-goer, unless you count Murray's Beach in French Cove (which you shouldn't). However, since being introduced to Port Hood beach, things have changed. It's like an all-inclusive summer experience.

You get to paint your toenails and put on your best beach outfit. You get to enjoy the drive there, the warm weather, and you can even take along the portable BBQ. For a parent, the beach is like a dream come true. Fill your trunk with shovels and pails and toys, dip your kids in sunscreen, and let them run! That's where we spent Canada Day, and it was a perfect start to a very beachy summer for us.

So there you have it, my top five. If you're at all interested in the top five worst things about summer, I have that list, too. Mosquitoes, sunburn, June Bugs, humidity, and two months of terrible hair weather are the worst offenders. But in keeping with a positive outlook this week, I'll go heavy on the deet, stick my hair in a ponytail, use lots of SPF 5000, and be thankful for the sun. It'll be gone before we know it!

Monday, June 16, 2008

'Tis the Season

Ah, spring.

As soon as the snow melts, I'm reminded of the approaching wedding season. Traditionally, once April ends, the wedding invitations start rolling in. I recently celebrated my second wedding anniversary, and our May long-weekend wedding in 2006 was perfect. No fear of poor attendance due to snow storms, no embarrassment and discomfort from excessive perspiration due to summer humidity.

And again, this spring did not disappoint. Not only did I receive an invitation to the sure-to-be-beautiful wedding of a good friend, but I got some very exciting news in the past few days: my little sister is getting married! Yay! And, also very exciting, she has asked me to stand in the wedding. For most 29-year-olds, this might be cause to groan at the thought of adding yet another hideous taffeta dress to the back of the coat closet for eternity, but not me. Believe it or not, I've never stood in a wedding before, and I'm pumped.

As a bridesmaid, you get to wear a pretty dress and carry flowers, only instead of paying for 200 meals and still going hungry for fear of spilling something on your gown, you get a stress-free, cost-free meal and a night of dancing. Seems like a pretty sweet deal to me.

Since I've been in her shoes and might have a few words of wisdom, I'll be helping plan certain parts of my sister's wedding, as required. Most brides know what they want and won't settle for anything less than what they feel is important. God bless them, every one. Unfortunately, as any post-wedding bride will tell you, what you think will be important often isn't, and the things you overlook can sometimes be the most important things of all.

Take decorations, for example. I wasn't satisfied until I had wrapped thousands of tiny chocolates in delicate foil (the color of which matched the bridesmaid dresses, of course), and had placed these chocolates on each table in little glass bowls filled with perfectly coordinated flower petals. Wrap your brain around the manpower involved in that little detail. A detail which, as should have been expected, fell on blind eyes - people grabbed the chocolates, drove them into their open gob, and threw the foil wrapper over their shoulder without a second thought. Being an excited bride, I put way too much thought and labor into that one project, thinking foolishly that people would pick up the candies and admire the workmanship. Who was I kidding.

So if I may, I'd like to offer a few tips to the ladies who are tirelessly planning their all-important wedding.

First and foremost, don't skimp or make any sacrifices when it comes to your pictures. I know it's expensive, but it's by far the best investment you'll make. Trust me, the day will fly by so fast, you won't even remember it the following afternoon, and all you'll have left are the images to remind you. Make a video if you can. If you can't afford a professional, get one or two reliable friends to take along their camcorder. I watch mine often, to remember the music, the nervous laughter, and the look on the groom's face when I walked down the aisle. (That's my favorite part, and it will probably be yours, too.) The opportunity to look back on that day is truly priceless.

Don't sweat the small stuff. The little details you're worrying so much about will go unnoticed to 99% of the guests, so don't worry if the small glasses of tomato juice clash with the centerpieces; you're the only one who cares. If the ring bearer drops the pillow and starts to cry, big deal; you'll laugh about it the week after. If your curls are falling out on the way to the church, if you can't find your best lipstick, if you got a dot of mascara on your dress, don't burst into tears; as long as your groom shows up, the little things don't matter. Everyone thinks you and your wedding are gorgeous. The people who don't just suck and shouldn't be there anyway.

Further to that, enjoy your day. Laugh with your friends and chat with people you don't see very often. Have a plate of food and a piece of your cake - you likely paid through the nose for it, so you might as well reap the benefits. Kick off your uncomfortable shoes so you can dance the night away. Try to steal a moment alone with the person you just married. Don't let your wedding ruin your Wedding Day. With any luck, you'll only do it once, so have a great time.

Here's to all the brides and grooms, and may you have an awesome wedding.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dear Premier MacDonald

Please forgive me, Premier MacDonald, for misinterpreting the statements you made in a recent interview about rising gas prices. I was so busy struggling to make ends meet that I didn't put aside the time to thoroughly analyze your words.

Your plight for clarification was brought to my attention on May 14th, when I read your letter in The Reporter. You did a fine job explaining to us all how you were so viciously and maliciously misquoted.

After all, had I not been so consumed with my astronomically-priced light bill, I might have recognized that, when you suggested "taking up the opportunity for transit", that could just as easily have meant for people to take the subway or commuter train from Inverness now, hold on. I don't think there are any other means of public transit in Nova Scotia apart from the buses in CBRM and HRM, are there? I mean, except for the Strait Area Transit Cooperative, but, useful as they might be, I'm not aware of their fleet of vehicles making a daily River Bourgeois - Port Hawkesbury run. No matter, you didn't actually SAY for us to take the bus, you just suggested we use public transit....which would HAVE to mean the bus, since there aren't any alternatives....which would make the quote, "take the bus" pretty accurate. Anyway, I digress.

Thank you for your suggestion as to how to get some relief at the pumps. When I get a break from worrying about this region's high unemployment rates and economic hardship, I'm going to look into getting one of those hybrid vehicles you talk about. As one of the highest paid public servants in our province, I'm sure you'll have no trouble getting your hands on one, so maybe you could give me some buying tips. Who knows, since people who can afford hybrid cars probably aren't too concerned with gas prices anyway, perhaps I can find an owner to let me take theirs for a test drive! As long as I promise not to go for an ice cream, of course. We've all learned what a perilous outing that can be.

It's surprising that you haven't received more thanks from the people of Mabou and Cheticamp and Framboise, all those small communities, for those generous transit tax credits included in the recent budget. People around here need all the help they can get, and even though credits like that won't apply to the majority of Nova Scotians (certainly not to the ones living in your riding), you would think the municipal councilors or welfare recipients or Ladies Auxiliaries, somebody, would have all got together and at least sent a fruit basket or something your way, in lieu of the widely-inclusive financial assistance provided by our government. How ungrateful.

But, while I'm sitting around watching tourism figures and population numbers rapidly decrease, I'm encouraged by the fact that you had the time and resources to pen and distribute such an important letter of explanation to your hometown constituents. One has to assume that, with enough time on your hands to successfully spin a potential media fallout, you must have projects up your sleeve that will solve all our problems here at home. I can't wait for the press conference announcing what plans for our area have developed to such an extent that letter-writing is your top priority. Is it a new plant of some sort? A change in the Accord agreement? C'mon Premier, don't play coy! We're chomping at the bit over here.

I don't have much more time to write, as I'm on my way to the post office (I can't afford to go visit my family in Richmond County every week, what with the price of gas and all, so we've started corresponding by mail). However, I would like to commend you on your flair for the dramatic. It's not every day a Premier has a letter published in every provincial newspaper for the purposes of damage control, attempting to clarify a point that is, I feel, pretty clear to everyone already. It must be difficult to compete for headlines with the likes of Judy Streach and your other colorful cohorts in Halifax. How very Strait regional school board of you to make much ado about nothing; it almost indicates a knowledge of goings-on in our region after all.

In closing, Premier, I'd like to extend to you an invitation to my son's third birthday party next week. I notice that you're usually in enthusiastic and jovial attendance at other functions around Port Hawkesbury as of late, and I'm willing to bet a well-to-do man like yourself will probably spring for a pretty nice present (there will be free food, after all). Just look for the blue house with the white "surrender" flag hanging on the deck.

Very sincerely,
Gina MacDonald

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dear Mr. Haagen-Daas - The Battle of the Bulge, Part 1

Dear Mr. Haagen-Daas,

I regret to inform you that I will no longer be purchasing your fine selection of ice cream products.

Normally a notification like this wouldn't be necessary, but seeing as I'm such a loyal customer, I am fairly certain my abstinence will reflect in your future sales figures, and I wanted to give you a head's up. You should expect to see a decline in the sales of, most notably: chocolate peanut butter, cherry vanilla, and rocky road.

If it's any consolation, the same effects will be felt by the folks at Dairy Queen, Scotsburn, Farmers, Ben & Jerrys, and every student ice cream barn in the Quad County area, to whom this letter has also been forwarded.

Trust me, it's not that I have any desire to stop consuming your delicious creations. Given the opportunity, I would gladly eat nothing but ice cream three meals a day for the rest of my life. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to open my freezer and see a pint of your wonderful diary goodness gazing back at me. To eat it is like a sweet, frozen kiss on the lips, and my taste buds covet every pecan, marshmallow & caramel swirl.

Many a death threat has been uttered to members of my household in an effort to sanctify and sustain your product, and I am both proud and joyless to report that my efforts have been met with much success. My husband isn't a big fan of ice cream, period, so he wasn't a big threat to begin with. My kids love it, but they're easily distracted, and I have been able to tempt them with other treats and keep the majority of the ice cream for myself. While this has been a wonderful reality for me to enjoy, I am now paying the price.

You see, I could have swore your packaging labels read "fat free" or "ideal for diets" or something along those lines, but I guess I was mistaken. And here I was, eating Cherry Garcia almost as if it were going out of style, not giving a second thought to the caloric repercussions of my actions. The result, to put it mildly, is not physically ideal.

First, I noticed my pants were fitting more snugly than usual. Soon after, I found I had a bit of extra padding when I would sit down. Coming on the end, I noticed an extra chin was forming. But the biggest wake up call came the other night, when I was startled at pictures I found; my husband has, at some point, married another woman! Sure, she looks a lot like me, and mysteriously she even wore my wedding dress...and had all the same guests...and was holding my children in a few shots. But that couldn't be me, I don't look like that! I may not have the same pre-babies bod I once did, but I couldn't have changed that much, could I? In any event, since my clothes have recently been rejecting my body, I feel it's in the best interest of everyone involved if I stop eating ice cream and begin a new diet regimen. Especially since, if you listen very closely, you can actually hear my arteries clogging.

So, allow me, if you will, to offer a few suggestions as to how to improve your products and make them more suitable for people like me.

First, each label should include a disclaimer, written in big, bold letters. Your advertising staff should have final copy, but I advise it should say something like, "WARNING: Consumption of this product, while providing instant and powerful gratification, may lead to obesity, with side effects including self-consciousness, denial, guilt, frustration, and lack of clothes-shopping enjoyment. Crying jags, hissy-fits, and temper tantrums are more infrequent, but have been reported in some cases." You may need a bigger container to fit all that, but I think you can afford it, considering you charge over $5 for as much ice cream as one could fit on a single large cone.

As the more expensive, yet more rewarding, alternative, you could invest millions of dollars in the research and development of a fat-free, calorie-free, organic and health-smart ice cream. Imagine being the brain behind that! Your profits would compensate one hundred fold for the initial investment, and you could win back faithful customers like me. Run with it, trust me. You're welcome.

In closing, I want to again express my regret concerning my new-found temperance, and I apologize for any negative effect it might have on your bottom line. Should you happen to take action on that idea we talked about, let me know and I'll be the first in line.

With fond memories & admiration,
A new & improved Gina MacDonald

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Game Over

I heard on the news the other night that 80% of adults in Nova Scotia gamble in some form at least four times per month, whether it be buying lotto tickets or taking a trip to the casino. That's a much higher number than I would have guessed.

I've never been much of a gambler. I never to go bingo, I don't buy lottery tickets, scratch tickets, or pull tickets, and I've only been to a casino twice. Another thing I don't do is play those VLTs.

Don't get me wrong, I have before. I've thrown in a few loonies here and there, but never much more than that. And I've always cashed out if my winnings reached more than ten dollars or so. I've just never been very liberal when it comes to those poker machines. I might walk away with lots of money, but only if I risk losing a great deal of it too, something I'm not willing to chance.

Unfortunately, much the same way as alcoholics have a hard time staying away from alcohol, compulsive gamblers can't stay away from VLTs. Addiction is a powerful thing, it seems. Even in the absence of any ingested chemical, people get addicted to playing poker machines as other people do to hard drugs, and I would venture to say that, in this province, it ruins just as many lives.

We all know someone who, while they can't afford to make their car payment, can be found on payday pumping cash into a machine at the tavern. Or someone who has blown their whole paycheque and now can't afford to buy groceries. Or, even worse, the person who asks you to borrow twenty bucks under the guise of buying diapers, only to blow it in five minutes in an attempt to win more. I feel bad for a great majority of these people, who meet a VLT at every corner, and who have been falsely led to believe that great riches will come their way, if they just put in one more dollar.

Because, you see, that's the problem with VLTs. At bingo, when the night is over, it's over. But with VLTs, the promise of a big jackpot may be just a few dollars away, as indicated on the screen right in front of you. As soon as the "sorry, game over" message flashes, the row of 7s, the straight flush, or whatever the big winner might be, immediately follows it on the screen. It says, even if only subliminally, "you may have lost that time, but look at what could happen if you play again."

Problem gamblers account for more than half of net VLT revenues, according to Statistics Nova Scotia. Those same statistics show that these machines account for 75% of the Atlantic Lotto Corporation's net revenue, and that they have generated more than three hundred million dollars in revenue for the Atlantic provinces. So what is more likely, that the government is going to do all it can to prevent people from developing an addiction to gambling, starting with reducing the number of machines available to these gambling addicts? Or that the government is too dependant on gaming revenues to be proactive in doing anything that discourages people from handing their money over to the coffers? Constituents are gambling their paycheques and their lives away, and the government is not aggressively addressing one of the main problems, the presence of these machines at every turn.

The Nova Scotia government currently licenses over 2300 VLTs to taverns and bars, not including another 500 licensed to First Nations communities, and countless others in the casinos. If this government actually wants problem gambling to decrease, they'll significantly reduce this number, and I mean very significantly. However, I'm not going to hold my breath.

For those of you playing devil's advocate, I agree that a gambling addiction is the responsibility of the person who has it, and not completely the fault of the government. An adult is charged with being accountable and solving personal problems as they arise, without passing blame. But it's not enough to say, "just don't play them" when a person has a physiological compulsion and sees a row of 20 machines while they're having lunch at a local tavern. Occasional gamblers will not take issue with a decrease in the number of available machines, and profits, whether it be to merchants or government, should be a lower priority than the well being of people who live here. A small sticker with the number to a gambling hotline isn't enough, and until opportunity is decreased, problem gambling in Nova Scotia will continue to the same extent as it is today.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Serenity Now

George Costanza said it best when he bellowed, "Serenity Now!" That is a mantra, almost a prayer, for when things get to be too much. When a situation is so overwhelming and stressful that you throw your hands up and want to scream. And never could it be more appropriate than when you're in the throes of home renovation.

Tearing your house apart in an effort to beautify seems like a good idea at the time, but it's a lot like baking a cheesecake; the visions of the end result override common sense and practicality, and before you know it you're covered in flour (or drywall residue) and wondering what ever possessed you to get started with this nonsense in the first place. Especially when you want Oreo cheesecake and your husband wants pina colada. Or in my case, when I want "Martha Stewart Living" and my husband's taste gravitates more toward "set of Miami Vice".

Luckily, many of the big things were already done when we moved in. The kitchen was complete (with the exception of a Polmolive-green tile backsplash which I'm currently negotiating. Trust me, it will be spectacular.), as was the dining room, and the flooring in the living room and hallway. The kids' rooms were a snap decision-wise, since Lightning McQueen reigns supreme in our lives, and army decor was the obvious choice for our older boy. But even though we didn't spend much time pondering the theme for each room, that didn't make the work any easier.

It was decided that I would take the kids out for the day while he completed room number one. God knows, I didn't want little three year old fingers to find their way around a tile cutting saw, and with a kid who constantly wants to be with his daddy, leaving the house altogether made the whole thing easier on all of us. Room number two required the same evacuation, only this time my husband came to find the carpet had been nailed to the floor, thanks to the infinite genius of previous contractors. Over three hundred nails, two nights of a wormy toddler sleeping in our bed, and plenty of colorful language later, the kids rooms were done. Now we were onto our main battlegrounds, which were the living room and master bedroom.

Round 1: The living room. Flooring excluded, the entire space had to be changed cosmetically. There is nothing more frustrating than explaining the subtle differences between burnt almond and chocolate milkshake taupe to someone who really and truly only sees beige. At the same time, I'm about as qualified to roam unsupervised around a hardware store as he would be at a makeup counter. So somewhere between my need for symmetry, clean lines, and faux-suede drapes with grommets, and his leaning toward vertical blinds, curio cabinets, and "I don't care, just hurry up and decide", we reached a compromise including dark brown panels with valances for the windows, baseboards and crown moldings, some well placed accessories, and a few plants, without a bit of scalloped lace to be found. Don't get me wrong, it looks absolutely beautiful and I love it, but the process wasn't without it's many outbursts of "Serenity Now."

Round 2: The master bedroom. This project was not a priority for me, not only because we're the only people who see it, but also because it was so far gone, I didn't quite know where to start. But apparently my complaining about how much I loathed our out-of-date room wore him down, and a bedroom makeover was my husband's wonderful birthday surprise. And by wonderful, I mean appreciated yet tedious and painful for him. I should mention, our entire room was covered with layer after layer of 75 thousand year old wallpaper. You may shudder and gasp, because I know he did. From 8:00 Saturday morning, he and the kids (and me, sporadically) ripped and soaked and scrubbed and scraped and wished death upon the people who put up the wallpaper, and all wallpaper makers in general. Of course considering the mess we were making, our massive Victorian style wooden headboard, along with the boxspring and mattress from our queen sized bed, had to be moved into the hallway, where it sat for two days obstructing traffic, while the smaller contents of our room bled into every other room in the house, making the MacDonald residence look alarmingly like Ground Zero. By Sunday night, the wallpaper was but a distant and horrible memory, and I had a brand new bedroom. My husband chose expressions other than "Serenity Now", and I can't say I blame him.

I'll leave you with this advice: don't renovate unless and until you absolutely have to. I say this as I prepare to tackle our biggest project, the bathroom.

Serenity now.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Enough Already

As I write this, it's storming like crazy, and the slippery roads have deprived me of the daily "pick up milk, get some gas" solo excursion that I have come to rely on. I have firmly decided that I have had it up to here (envision my hand a foot above my head) with winter.

Go ahead, I dare you to call me a sooky baby. I double dare you to give me the "it's Cape Breton, deal with it" speech. Because in my 29 short years on this planet, it may surprise you how much winter I've actually experienced.

I remember being a kid in River Bourgeois and jumping off our roof into the snow, since the only things taller than the snowbanks were houses and utility poles. And I remember walking through four feet of snow, standing at the bus stop while my face was lambasted with ice pellets, and the drive to school was like a scene from "Tokyo Drift." It may not be equal to our grandparents' "walking to school uphill both ways in a blizzard", but some mornings it was close.

But beyond any childhood flashback, or any Nova Scotian winter lament, is the horrible memory of "the North". As many of you know, I spent a few years living and working in the Arctic.

Have you ever seen the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" with Dennis Quaid? That movie showed the earth moving into another Ice Age at -75 degrees, and the planet froze over. Well, I can tell you with absolute certainty that something like that couldn't happen, because the day I left Qikiqtarjuaq (have fun pronouncing that), it was -72 degrees with the windchill. That is not a tall tale or an exaggeration. Absorb that for a moment. Think about people's reaction to -25 degrees, and then imagine having to deal with -72. I can tell you, it's not comfortable. And it's not even the same kind of cold we get in Cape Breton, it's a mind-numbing, bitter, bone-marrow-covered-in-icicles kind of cold that you have to feel to believe.

Here's an example: you know how you go outside in December with wet hair and it freezes and gets hard? Well that happens in Nunavut, too. Only it happens when your hair is DRY, and it also freezes your eyelashes and nose hairs. Word to the wise: never underestimate a 30 second frostbite warning.

In Qikiqtarjuaq, winter was almost year round. There were a few months that weren't AS cold, but even in August, I woke up to a huge, Titanic-calibre iceberg floating in the water near my house. When the "warm" weather came, we were all sporting tshirts and panting and sweating, and it was only about 12 degrees. The day it hit 19 was almost more than we could handle.

Then you have to consider the darkness. At a latitude that high, winter is almost 24 hour a day darkness. There is an hour or so in the afternoon when the sun rises slightly enough to give the horizon the appearance of dusk, but that's it, and for months. I don't know about you, but no amount of Vitamin D capsules can replace a day of sunlight for me. It was depressing. And I didn't just see this once, I was there for a few years.

So now, can we safely say that I've endured more than my fair share of winter? Haven't I made my case for the right to complain a little?

There are others living in the Strait area who have also dealt with many Nunavut winters, and these people, myself included, are the first to scoff at Nova Scotian complainers. Normally, I'm the first one to say "suck it up, it's not that bad", and in comparison, it's not. But still, that doesn't mean I don't get sick of it, especially at this time of year. It's the tease of spring that kills me. One day, it's 15 degrees and the sun is splitting the rocks outside. The next day, like today, my heat is cranked, and I can't even see across the road for the blowing snow. Make up your mind, Mother Nature! Is it over, or isn't it? Can we break out the bicycles or do we need mittens at the ready? I need some consistency here! Haven't I done enough winter already?

My luck, the day this goes to print it will be a balmy 20 degrees and every reader will be wondering why I'm ranting and raving at such nice weather. But don't say I didn't warn you. Cindy Day, with her Shirley Temple ringlets, red lipstick & "I love snow" attitude, is sure to curse us once more before the season is over. And when that happens, you'll all be echoing my sentiments, trust me.

NOTE*** I wrote this last Wednesday when it was storming in Port Hawkesbury...just so you all know, it was bad out a few days after that, again yesterday, and we're supposed to get up to 40cm of snow again in the next few days. It's Cindy Day, I'm telling you. She's a witch.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Helicopter Mom

*Just a note...this is the article that I had published in the Reporter this week, but the idea originally came from a blog by Michelle Symes, who writes "Boularderie Blog" (a link to which is on the side of this page). She actually wrote about this topic more succinctly than I did, but I used her idea to try to get my own point across. Just wanted to give credit where credit was due. Check out her blog, it's really good. And while you're at it, check out the link to Lianne's blog, too. Hers is "Bloggideeblogblog". Lots of laughs on both blogs, a really good read.*

I always thought I'd be the "cool mom". I'd have the house that all the kids wanted to hang out at, and be the mom who threw all the cool birthday parties, who listened to cool music, and who everyone felt they could talk to.

Cut to a few years later, and I am definitely not the cool mom. I'm a helicopter mom. The term "helicopter mom" was coined by my friend and fellow writer Michelle Symes, and she defines it as "a mother who hovers over her children." Maybe it's that I watch the news too often, or maybe it's one too many episodes of "Law & Order", but somewhere along the line, neurotic paranoia took over, coolness was thrown out the window, and the result was this consistent hovering.

Now don't get me wrong, my kids aren't cloaked in veils when we go out, and I haven't made my oldest son start wearing a helmet to school (yet), but I'm more strict than I perceived myself to be. You can judge for yourself, and I'll be interested to hear if I'm on the same page as other parents of an almost-10-year-old.

I'm big on curfews, and my son has to check in with me every hour when he plays outside after school. I have to know who he's with, where he's at, and what he's doing, and these variables have to be approved in advance. Homework and chores have to be done before he goes out to play or watches TV. He's not allowed to go skating or swimming or ride his bike to the mall unless I or my husband are with him, and I don't care if he's the only kid who's not going. He's not allowed to sit in the front seat of the car, watch "The Simpsons", ride a dirt bike, shoot a pellet gun, get sneakers with little wheels on them, listen to 50 Cent, play "God of War", shave his head into a mohawk, or say the word "stupid". And I make him buckle up, dress warm, wear sunscreen, finish all his supper, do his school work over and over until it's done properly, and play with his brother even when he doesn't want to. To top it off, if the rules are broken, the severity of the infraction determines how long he has to say goodbye to his TV, his PS2, toys, playing outside, or maybe all of those things. Period. That's just the way things work around here. And when my other little boy is old enough, those same rules will apply.

These are the reasons why I find it hard to gauge my parenting boundaries. Am I on the strict side? Or am I just like everyone else? Normally I wouldn't question myself, but when I see and hear what other kids his age are doing, it makes me wonder. Most of his friends are allowed to own and watch and do all these things that he's so desperate to take on. He considers it a huge injustice to be the "only one" who doesn't have those same permissions. I don't feel like I'm smothering him, but just hearing the words "motorized scooter" is enough to send my blood pressure soaring and want to lock him away in a tower until he reaches the age of majority. I hate to make him the neighborhood nerd, but I'd rather him come home at night with all his limbs than let him run loose for the sake of being "cool". But how do you know when "fair and firm" turns into "Drill Sergeant Mom"?

That's the problem, you don't know. All I can do is my best. If I let my son do fun things that are safe and age-appropriate, that's just going to have to be good enough. I keep telling myself he'll thank me for it when he's older, because only then will I know if all this discipline and behavior modification has paid off. These days, he can be saucy and defiant, and I think he's attempting the world record for being grounded. I wish I didn't have to be such a party pooper, but if it means that someday I'll have a 25-year-old son who is respectful, street smart, has good manners, a good education, and no criminal record, I'll count my efforts as successful.

Until then, I'm staying true to my directives. "Eat your corn, clean your room, change the channel, put on a sweater, wear your helmet, and be back in an hour, or else."