Elsa

Frozen Ice Princess

Listen or read.

Last January I went to the Halloween show in Houston where there were showing the costumes for toddlers and little girls for Elsa and Anna from the movie Frozen.

I’m not really here to talk about Elsa, but I am very interested in why this blonde haired, blue eyed princess is so popular with girls ages 3-7.   Especially that since American Girls pulled several minority dolls from their line-up, parents, advocates and professionals are frothing at the mouth.

Since I opened my costume business in 2010, princesses in general were passé.  I could not give the gowns away.   Then the Frozen came out and I was asked by Disney to give away some free passes, which I did, and people [meaning mothers and teen girls] were very interested.  They liked the movie.

Then the summer came and people called asking where they could get the damn dresses for their daughter’s birthday parties. I mean not even the Disney store could keep them in stock.  I wondered if the little girls were asking for Elsa character or if the mother’s just liked the Frozen party theme.  Mostly I was wondering whether I should have carried the dresses.

As an Anthropologist, I started thinking about this princess and where the blonde interest was coming from.  A little background. Since 1989, we’d enjoyed a series of hair colours all in the brunette range.  1989, Ariel, red hair.  1991, Belle, auburn hair.  1992, Jasmine, black hair.  1995, Pocahontas, black hair.  1998 Mulan, black hair.  Then almost 10 years with no princess and we had in 2009 Tiana, black hair.  Twenty years and, excepting Rapunzel in 2010, no blonde princesses.

Keep in mind that in the past five years, even the Cinderella and Aurora princesses were not in demand.  Was there something wrong with blonde haired, blue eyed? What were the intersections of consumer, manufacturing and politics that where brunette princesses reigned for twenty years, but yet costume demand after movies was nothing like demand for Elsa.  Also keep in mind that no-one wants to be Anna, her red headed sister.

I remembered working for a major party company and that they sold lots of blonde wigs to little girls.  So when I did the purchasing for my own company, I did the same thing, bought lots of blonde wigs.  But my wigs are sitting there gathering dust and I wondered why.  It occurred to me that one of the reasons may be that the demographic of the residents of the party store were different.  I woke up and went aha they were of Southern Asian descent and that the demographic of the business I now own is far more mixed.  In other little girls with black and brown hair like the idea of blonde hair, but like me being blonde why would I buy a blonde wig.

That doesn’t explain though, Elsa popularity through all demographics.  So I am back to the consumer politics of supply and demand, but I am thinking about my own kids, born in 1990 during this reign of brunette princesses.  I have a picture of my son in nursery school .  He’s wearing a purple shirt, not bad, but also wearing a pink tutu and, on his head, a band with a tinfoil unicorn horn.  He’s holding a mirror and his smile is rapturous, saying I am beautiful.  He’s now 24 and living with his girlfriend and I’m thinking this story and photograph would be great for his wedding.

Would all parents and teachers be so open to letting a little boy explore, not necessarily his feminine side, but his beauty.  My daughter didn’t really play with dolls.  She had a couple of Barbies including Pochahantas and a black baby doll.  Both my kids are adopted and adoption ideas are enmeshed in our daily lives.  One day my daughter said, “When I become a mommy, I’m going to adopt a black baby girl.” Later on that doll showed up and I can’t remember who got for her.  She didn’t play with it either.

So I am thinking now, like the Midge Barbie doll that I had with auburn hair and freckles, I don’t know if the push comes from manufacturing, or the parents, or the children, or the Culture of politics.  Did the little girls during those 20 years free of blonde princesses, long for golden tresses.  Were little girls hushed when they reached for the blonde, but applauded when they asked for the doll of colour.  Seriously, I don’t remember if that’s all that was available or what I reached for because it was more socially appropriate or if it’s what my daughter wanted.

I guess I should, as my sister says, land the plane.  I wish … I wish I could ask Disney why 1989 to 2009 was dominated by brunettes, but in the end I think people are just fickle.  I don’t think this is political, or about a lack of affirmative action or the death of feminism.  We all want what is new ~ that is firmly entrenched in our consumer society and it’s been a blonde dry spell for princesses, so that’s new.  I also want to point out that from 1990 to around 1998, the world was reacting to the changes from the fall of the Berlin wall.  Globally speaking, there was a huge surge in international adoption from China, India, Russia including children of Germanic, Indo-Iranian, Koreans, Chechen and Turkic groups were adopted and from Romania including Roma, an ethnic group of Indian origin.  This subject was in the daily news and what mother, with a baby girl adopted from China, would not take the opportunity to buy a cool doll that looked just like her daughter.

We all also enjoy what is beautiful, what is rare in our world.  It doesn’t mean that a drab coloured wren has any less worth than a yellow house finch, yet I get excited I see those little yellow birds at the perch because they stand out and they are rare.  Elsa’s frosty blonde hair contrasts perfectly with her piercing blue eyes and sparkly gown.  Who wouldn’t want to be that, even for just one day?  Isn’t that what free play, dress-up and even Halloween is for, a space where for one moment where we can explore another self and not be judged by society.  Like my son who for one day in nursery school traded Batman for a tutu wearing unicorn and learned to appreciate beauty in a whole new way.

Sweet Sixteen

I love this Rock Glam Musical and, in particular, this song Midnight Radio.

Hedwig is an angry, selfish, cruel and fabulous almost-Diva, but ultimately a human who finally accepts that life throws, fleeting and unpredictable, both joy and pain.

While the story definitely uses gender as a fulcrum, the action, music and lyrics vibrate with the angst, anger, disguise, exploration, recognition, revelation and acceptance of identity or the meaning of one’s life.

I dedicate this to all the sweet sixteens of the world who will not get this until they are 30.  Happy Birthday Blue Eyes.

What the Heart Wants

The heart wants what the heart wants and I wanted you so badly.

In your face I saw my future unfold.

All things fall away when you are safe.

You are not a friend, nor a lover

two things that gravity pulls to me.

You are a teacher of life’s

joy and pain.

Never mine, always yours

as my mother taught me.

Time does pass and I will go.

Know that you are loved , son of my heart.

The Ward – a Fictionalized True Story

It was 6:30 a.m. as I washed my face and heard a faint warble.  For the two weeks  leading to Halloween night my iphone had been beeping non-stop with requests from Spider-Man to Doctor Who.  In a Pavlovian response, I scanned the media for meaning.  One stood out.  No Caller ID arriving at 3:00 a.m.

I hate those calls, when all you can think is that somebody died.

The message was from my son.  He was incoherent.  Blubbering that he had fucked up.  I’d never heard him blubber before, but then he was calling from the psych ward at St. Joe’s Hospital.  I was thinking, hoping, maybe he’d finally hit rock bottom.   I know that sounds callous coming from a mother, but sometimes rock bottom can be the place from which your children can rise fully formed.

Driving my SmartCar with Lake Ontario’s bright sparkling water conflicting my day, I realized that I wasn’t panicked.  I could no longer remember, though, if that calm was part of my personality or whether I was like a triage nurse who’d seen it all.

There was a lot of comfort in the fact that my son had called and not the Hospital.  He was alive and I was grateful, but still I had that sour metallic taste in my mouth.  An emotional knee jerk reaction.  Not because he was in trouble, but because I’d been here before with another family member.

You might be thinking, oh maybe mental illness runs in her family, but neither of these ward members are genetically related to me.  After miscarriage and infertility, I’d hoped to give Darwin a good fight.  There was a time when my sisters and I laughed thinking my adoption of children would improve our family DNA, like replacing our flat Scottish bottoms with a real bouncy round derriere gene.

We stopped laughing so much after the deaths of our father, mother and sister.  Half of us were gone and there was no stopping the trajectory of  stomach Cancer in our family.   My goals had changed since the average lifespan in my family was now 57 years.   I just wanted to see my kids grown up and happy.

Emergency was quiet and orderly.  The occasional voice of a wailing child rose and fell with the opening of the pneumatic door into the Juvenile Room.   As I stood behind the yellow line I thought about getting a coffee, but did not want to miss my turn.  Finally with the mention of my son’s name the sliding glass doors opened from the waiting room into the treatment areas.  My reluctant feet knew their way past the thread bare curtained rooms where knees were stitched and bones were set to the heavy door separating the crazies from the almost crazy.

The door had a window.  I did not look in, but leaned against the wall, hand paused above the buzzer.  The last time I was here I made a choice to leave alone.  The memory of the small shocked face of my daughter getting smaller in that same window as I walked away, is difficult.   For seven years that face, that memory, had me chained to hopes and dreams shattered by alcohol and drugs and what comes with it.

What was I committing myself to by walking through this door again? I was alone physically and emotionally with the indecision of loving my son and potentially threatening my own well being.

I pressed the buzzer.  The staff and two beefy security barely glanced up.  Who would though, I’m the tiny WASP blonde grandma.  Not much of a threat.

The control room dominated this ward.  There were no privacy curtains only small locked treatment rooms, a bathroom and a bank of seats.  My 23 year old son was sitting on an orange chair fatigued to the pallor of a 40 year old Bay Street broker with too much credit and no self control.   I let him ramble through a bizarre tale of over-drinking with friends to the point of paranoia.  A mad run, through the neighbourhood he grew up in, from someone who was trying to “kill him”, ending up crouching inside the local convenience store.

He said he’d called out for help, but the store clerk had disappeared, increasing his paranoia that he was in danger.  The next thing he remembered was breaking through a plate glass window only to be faced with a squad of armed officers.   I’m thinking, what was he on to get that crazy and thank god the clerk hightailed it out to call the Police.

Toronto’s finest took him to the Hospital and not the Drunk Tank.  Miracle One.  After a series of tests, the Doctor let him call me, but he said he was terrified that I wouldn’t show.  His father thought we should leave him here to toughen him up.  I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to do.

I sat back finally in the chair.  A small Asian woman walked the perimeter of the ward, I thought like a mouse retracing it’s steps, sure that they’ve missed an opening or a morsel of food.

I was sad.  Like my daughter, my son had narrowly escaped accidental death more than once.  What was the universal meaning in this?  I rubbed my face, thinking about what to say.

I wanted to understand what happened, so I queried like Agatha Christie.  Was someone angry at you?  How much did you drink?  Did you mix it with pot?  Who else was there?

I could see truths skirting around the edges of my son’s eyes, but impairment is subjective.  He could be mixing up days of drinking with fears rising like hallucinations.  One tiny piece of information could put the story together for me or break my heart.  I’m glad he doesn’t tell me everything.  Mothers shouldn’t know everything.

A young man with dark hair and dark eyes, who had been lying on a gurney, arm over his eyes, rises.   Boredom, curiosity, or maybe even hope drive him into the bathroom and then to sit beside us.  Shock still in a blue gown, listening to the murmurings of a Mother and son.  Where is his mother, I think.

A smell was now making it’s memory or rather demanding recognition from me.  Not like death, or illness or even hospital disinfectant which were all now in my 54 year old life’s repertoire.   I couldn’t put my finger on it, till I thought, it’s neither pleasant or unpleasant.  It’s just there, like something deciding.

The woman passed again, her competency and speed increasing as her hands stretched out, tracing the contours of the wall.  The kind of person who you would appreciate filling your 7:45 a.m. Timmy’s order.

Having made no progress with understanding my son’s story I went to the nurse’s desk.  I’m that typical Canadian.  Waiting politely to be acknowledged.  Sure that there is something more important than myself  that is keeping them.  The woman now stands beside me and says in no particular direction, “I’d like my toothbrush now.”

The nurse says, “The Doctor will be right with you. ”  I wonder how he knows that.  The phone didn’t ring.  Is it some magical telepathy developed by psych room staff only.  The woman’s voice says confidently,  “I’d like my toothbrush and a change of clothes.”  She is almost standing on my toes, like we could merge into one person to make us bigger, more impressive.  Almost an afterthought, she says, “I’m ready to go home now.”

As they negotiate her surrender, I retreat.  An orderly has offered a tray to my son and myself.  We both take one and I realize that I can’t, being celiac, eat anything on the tray.   My son’s tray of all beige food also stays untouched.  “Why do you take it if you don’t want it.”, I say knowing that we are both food snobs and it is my fault.

Dark Boy asks if he can have the food and says he and the woman are here voluntarily.   He is waiting for us to share the story.  My son is amiable and gentle as they chat.  With this incongruency, I have to stand and stretch.

A man, who looks like all the other staff except for a clipboard, crosses to us.  The Doctor.  After small talk about how my son got here he says,  like I should know, “So you see, he really shouldn’t be here at all.”  “He’s alright to go with you,” he continues as a question.

I am confused, but not really.  He’s asking if I have any concerns about my son’s mental health.  Anything that would necessitate a Doctor enacting the health act which states that my son could be kept if proven to be of danger to himself or others.

The forced practice of the staff to ignore unreasonable requests has the   woman now screaming at everyone and no one.  I shake my head, “No, he’s fine to come home.”  I am not lying, but with only the violent insanity of my daughter seven years ago to compare him to, he is fine.

I stand, but the Doctor has his hand on my arm.  “We found something”, he says.  I sit.

The woman flies by muttering, “I want my toothbrush.  I want to go.  I want …”, then the door to the bathroom slams and the screaming turns to wailing.  On the exact opposite side to the Juvenile ward where the toddler screams, the irony about the fragility of human beings is not lost on me.ColinDrMac

My son is now perfectly quiet, like a sharp intake of breath before you blow out a candle.  “We did an x-ray of his head and found a dark spot on his brain.”  I am thinking, why did they do an head x-ray of drunk boy-man?  Miracle Two.

“I think it’s a brain bleed, but I want to consult with St Michael’s.”,  he offers.  “Is this spot in his brain related to his strange behaviour?”,  I blurt.  I’m ashamed now, but for a nanosecond, part of me was desperate that my son isn’t an addict, spoiled or poorly raised.

I have too much fucking information, now thinking about my mother who survived skin cancer and a brain aneurysm only to die in her sleep from a heart attack at age 67.  Her best friend, Joan, was supposed to meet her for an early supper and she didn’t show.  Joan told us girls that she didn’t suffer.  That she was curled on her side in that way that she sleeps which is so familiar to me.  Was so familiar to us.

I didn’t wait for the Doctor to answer.  Instead, with my palm on my son’s back, I open that heavy steel door with the tempered glass and we walk out together.  Miracle Three.

 

Mothers

I live in a family with many different mothers.  Among us, inter-generationally and internationally, adoptees who are now mothers and mothers and through birth, death, divorce or adoption.

I could share the story about my long road to motherhood and my sense of meaning and purpose in being a mother.  If I did share this, however, it’s likely to trigger someone somewhere to feel bad about themselves and perhaps rage at me.

It seems that this is a standard occurrence for just about anything today.   A commercial about a mom and a dad negates two gays parenting.  An ad with an Asian on the left and a Black on the right of a White causes an self esteem issues.  The choice to sponsor a blogger with a hajib headscarf is called political pandering.  Witches stricken from Halloween so society doesn’t equate Wicca with evil women on brooms.  The term biological mother becomes birth mother becomes natural mother becomes first mother, still it means mother or does it?

Myself included, when did we all get so fucking sensitive?  About everything.   So politically correct, especially in Canada, that one can hardly turn without fear of using the wrong term or offending someone and where we are legislating ourselves into oblivion.

A practitioner who works with troubled teens, that included one of mine for a time, gave me Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.  Frankel was a doctor and holocaust survivor.  He questioned why some prisoners in the concentration camp he was in rose to the challenge of life while others, even once liberated, failed to thrive.  He observed, “…  There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that so effectively helps one to survive even the worse conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

The idea of finding meaning and purpose in life is daunting.  How does one finding meaning in life when we are so sure the even out basic rights are not in our control?  The step-parent with no child-raising experience is thrust into parenting rebellious teens.  The 15 year old who finds herself pregnant and her  mother making the decisions.  The 19 year old giving birth in a war torn country with no family and no social services.  The 30 year old who finds herself unable to maintain a pregnancy.  The boy, whose father remarries after being widowed, who can no longer remember his dead mother.  The father who feels himself alienated after divorce.  The 21 year old adoptee who finds his birth mother and doesn’t like her.  The adoptee who chooses not to search and gets flack from his adopted siblings.  The adoptee who thinks his life will turn around if he given his birth history, but even then finds he’s still angry and confused.

All want to label themselves as unique and call themselves down trodden.  If we are all down trodden on whose back shall we find true respite?

Frankl says, however, that while we have limited freedom with our circumstances, we do have ultimate freedom about how we react … how we take responsibility for ourselves.

He said that this choice [finding meaning] and action [finding purpose] for our suffering makes it an achievement rather than a tragedy.  How many people do you know like that, like Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama?

I  believe that suffering does not end whether we choose to parent, to place for adoption, to seek an abortion or remain childless.   Even under great duress we still make a choice and  all actions have consequences.

I am neither a sinner or a saint because I worked and eventually became a mother.  I learned that my role as mother is precarious and subjective.  You do not need to be a perfect mother, nor your children’s first mother, but I learned that you are only a mother when someone calls you mother.

Suffering is not something we can just get over or move past.  Suffering is the universal human circumstance which we must make part of our everyday lives.  It may shape us, but it cannot decide for us who we are and how we will act.

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Viktor Frankl

How to Play with a Three Year Old

If it wasn’t already obvious by the fact that I own a dress-up business, FeeFiFoFun Costumes, I have to gush that I love kids and I love free play.  I find myself, and my 54 year old knees, having trouble standing after a 40 minute marathon kneeling in the snow to build a snowman.

In spite of my childishness, I was shocked at how little I remembered the ages and stages that children go through.  I am delighted to report that my mommy spidey-sense did return, you know when it’s too quiet, and the eyes in the back of my head did grow back.

Grandparenting is not like raising your own kids where you have little or no choice but to engage 100%.  As a new grandparent, however, you have choices.  So the first thing to ask yourself is:  Do you like being around kids?  If you don’t like kids or play, don’t offer to babysit unless the kids are already asleep.  Don’t let your kids bully or blackmail you into babysitting because it will backfire.  Explain calmly that you don’t want them to come home to find the kids tied up, medicated and watching Breaking Bad with you.   It’s their choice.

I’ve been pretty clear with my daughter, much to her chagrin, that I am not interested in providing regular care for her kids.  I am interested in being with them and maintaining the lifestyle to which I have now become accustomed.

If you do like to play, like I do, here are some ideas of what to do with a three to four year old.

Take them for a walk.  It’s no longer acceptable to have our children march about our estate while we have an aperitif like they did in the Sound of Music. Be prepared to get dirty and to go really really slow so as to look at every bug.  Don’t go too far because they might need to be carried back, or have wet boots from puddling jumping or wet pants from being to busy to ask about the potty.

Image

I have this, and other products, from the House of Marbles. Old fashioned, time tested, quality games like this marble set.

Marbles, yes, old fashioned marbles is one of my three year old granddaughter’s favourite games. The one thing you’ll note is that a three year old loves repetition.  I get down on the wooden floor with legs as barriers and we roll them back and forth, marveling now and then at their colour or at our prowess.  “You can do it Gwammie,” she chirps.  I’m glad I’m doing yoga because playing marbles messes with my hip joints.

What’s in the Cupboard is an awesome game.  My granddaughter has free access to most of the house and found our Yahtzee game.  She likes shaking the dice in the cup or stacking them with the chips.  Resist the urge to actually teach her Yahtzee or name the number of dots on the dice, she’s only three.

Playdough is a fantastic tactile game that I set out on the dining room table beside my computer.  In between typing, I roll pieces into small balls or snakes to keep her focused on the dough, not my computer.  Unfortunately I made the mistake of taking a phone call from my Georgette of Georgie Porgies Cakes.  I got so excited discussing a cross promotion that when I surfaced, so was the dough, in little crumbs all over the surface of the floor  … and the dog was eating it.

Stickers, and recycled paper to put them on, are great.  Just don’t cheap out by going to a dollar store because those stickers are difficult for a three year old to peel off.  Other than redirecting her from putting them on the table to the paper, I don’t interfere.

Plastic figures of My Little Ponies, animals, firemen and Star Wars characters from Value Village can easily be sterilized and give tons of play around the house including the bathtub.  She’s warming up to Darth Vader since I took his helmet off.

Books, books, books.  I read four or five Robert Munsch books around her nap time and leave them with some plastic toys on the bed.  She either falls asleep on her own or has “quiet time”.   I mean quiet time for me to re-charge, not her ~ she’s going back to her parents house.

With respect to books, you don’t have to read every word or she will be reaching to turn the page before you are finished.  Embellish, use voices, point out little birdies on the page.  Soon peak in on her reading on her own.  So precious and so quiet.

After a couple of dates, I guarantee your mommy spidey-sense will also return as will the eyes in the back of your head.  If your house is childproofed, then you can leave her alone for free play and napping without fretting.

What play do like to do with your children or grandchildren?

Teen Confessions and 7,200 followers in 30 days

I have to confess that I have not had a very positive experience with teenagers.   I’ve felt that, even in my own family, teens existed just to mess with me.  Two of my sisters were extremely unbecoming in their behaviour and my children, in their twenties, have only just awoken to the real World of self-awareness and accountability.    I finally feel excited and relieved for my children, instead of anxious and fearful for them.

I don’t think any parent should couch today’s teen behaviour by saying that their world is more complicated and dangerous.  The truth is it is not and most teens are jerks.   Selfish, unaware, narcissistic and normal.   It’s amazing that they survive at all.

In past 12 months I uncharacteristically took on the internship of three teens from a local high school.  It was difficult, like herding wet cats ~ and, I’ve mentioned before that it was the most amazing creative thing I’ve been part of for a long time.

Following their “graduation” from my costume business, FeeFiFoFun, and on a whim, one of them started a new blog.  Within the month the blog had almost eight thousand followers.   One month.  Most companies would kill for those stats.

I thought long and hard about whether to reveal the name and location of this blog.  It’s just so incredible, I wanted to share it with the world.  I’ve decided, however, that disclosing it would ruin it.  You see, it’s an advice blog.  Advice given by teens to teens unmediated by meddlesome adults.  Imagine the horror of that you are thinking.

A dear friend of mine suffered greatly when a teen acquaintance of her son took his own life.   One night at dinner with too much wine, she raged that this teen’s school, the counselors, the government hadn’t done enough to help this teen’s suffering.

I begged her to differ.  I’d seen first hand how much is out there to support teens and their parents.  Frankly it’s staggering how much of our tax dollars and private fundraising goes into these efforts.

I can’t blame my friend for not knowing.  I’m actually grateful that she is naive about such things, meaning that her experience was a flicker of anguish compared to a family who lives every day with the cold inferno of a suicidal or mentally deranged teen.  I guess we both feel helpless.

I genuinely believe in holding out a hand to other humans, but my age and experience humbly reminds me that we adults are not all that.  All the anti-bullying campaigns, stranger danger talks, STD pamphlets, karate lessons for girls, bright posters in the hall, waving rainbow flags in the gym makes me cringe because they are purveyed by adults.

I know kids who feel all this brouhaha is not helpful, but actually inflames the very things they are trying to avoid, live through, solve.  Like shining a hot giant spotlight on their acne laden hormonally charged uncertain sexually ambivalent shoulders when they are just about to sneak into class late.

I’m not saying that adults should give up trying, but maybe we are putting too much of our own teen angst onto our kid’s backs.  Hanging on too damn tight in our efforts to spare our children from all this terrible beauty.

Do you remember what it was like to be a teen?  Maybe you did what adults asked of you, but who did you spent time talking with, watching or listening to?  Whose taunts hurt the most.   Whose attention did you crave?  Your peers.  If that’s not telling enough, check these stats.

This blog had over one thousand requests for advice in it’s first two weeks. Subjects ranged from menstruation, A cups, getting into college, cutting, how-to handle parents and being transgender.   I noted consistently [and surprisingly] that good advice was rendered simply, lovingly and in the language of incredible teens.

My hand hovered over Ask key on this blog.  Should I ask a question?  Should I give kudos?  No.  Like the parent who is lucky enough to glimpse into their child’s world without being made out, I will not let myself be seen.  I will hold back my worry.  Just be the fly on the wall.  Listen.  Learn to see a child[ren] holding their own.  A child[ren] making their way into the adult world.  A child[ren] making us proud.

ps the lesson for companies who want a strong following, have a product or a service that people actually need

A Short Story about Book Club

shutterstock_127158032My husband jokingly refers to our Book Club as Chardonnay Club.  I could defend our Club by kicking him in the shins, but I let the joke lay between us unchained by my annoyance.

I wasn’t always a member of this group.  I knew they existed and many of my friends and neighbours were part of it.  It is a rather large group fluctuating between ten to twelve members, but always at least eight, all women, are in attendance.  We meet for nine presentations and a year-end social where the books are picked for the next year.  Each member is expected to present and to host at least once a year.  Books are selected from a myriad of genres with attention paid to styles we have not done before.  We throw coats, catch up, fill plates and pour drinks, but the main event is the author presentation and ensuing discussion.  It’s interesting to note that a high enjoyment rating of the book does not equal interesting or raucous conversation about the book.

I was ambivalent about book club.  I was busy with my parenting group that, as our children grew, became more social.  Also, this was not the kind of club you asked to join.  That would be considered rude.  Not because the women were snobs or because they were looking for “like” kind, you know the people who can’t stand dissension and gather around them people who nod ~ but because like many women’s groups, it was a place with a vibe and a rhythm, where you kept confidence, and where you could make outrageous statements and people would actually entertain them.

Yes, there was gossip and, yes, sometimes the din was unbelievable, so much at times that I felt I needed to, and did, raise my hand like a school girl to express a point.  Men are not built for this din, but then also my husband does not want me at his shinny game and I don’t want him at book club.  Win win.

At the time the invitation came for me to join, I was experiencing the death of my mother, a divorce, a change of homes and one of my children went insane.  I don’t mean clinically insane, but the kind of insanity that comes with being a hormonal teen with divorcing parents and ready access to drugs and alcohol.   It flummoxed me how a teen feigned helplessness at shopping and cooking supper, but proved able to obtain alcohol underage, to swipe cough syrup from the drugstore and mix it with crushed heart medication from seniors to make a potentially fatal cocktail.  Spoiler alert, we all survived.

I’m lucky that a friend down the street let me stay in her home on the rotating weeks when I was away from our family home and my children.  I stayed in their “t.v.” room for which all their children, also teens, should be given a medal.  It was she who got me in the club door and it was the promise of and being in this club that kept me buoyed to an afterlife.  Meaning a life after whatever I was in at that time.

Not because of their sympathy or sandwiches, that too, and not because they understood divorce, they were all married, but because individually they were brilliant, funny, open, and interested in what I had to say.

That’s really important.  The interested in what I had to say part.  For most people who are divorcing, men and women, it’s the disinterest of their former partners that hurts more than anything else.

At the time I began with Book Club, I was a wounded animal, incoherent, dizzy with grief.  When she was alive, my mother called this state of being, my state of being when sad, as the dying duck in a thunderstorm.  My mother also was part of something she called Group.

Group was started in Calgary by friends, including my mom and my Auntie Joan, meeting in a local church, being the only space available to them sans children, husbands and beckoning mangle machines.  They told the Minister that it was a sewing club.  Being the early 60’s they could find no words that would make the Minister sympathetic to housewives with young children who wanted to explore beyond domesticity and their own intellect.  The book they started with was The Feminine Mystique, written in 1963 by Betty Friedan, an American writer, activist and a leader in the feminist movement.  You should check her out.

My mother would be happy that I am part of a Group because together, these women, my Book Club, have woven a blanket of comfort around me and if there is Chardonnay involved, all the better.

Sunday with Grammie

I love playing with kids.  I’m the kind of grandmother who gets right down in the mud.  Some times at parties, other adults will shoot me a look while I break dance with a seven year old boy or play a clap game with little girl.  I don’t prefer kids to adults, but sometimes, especially at parties, I don’t like the games adults play.  The idle gossip, the bragging, the heated political conversations when I know the other person hasn’t even voted in several years, the surface stuff that can now be transmitted by Twitter.  With kids it’s basic and it’s authentic.

My daughter is finally working [ another story] in a job that she loves and is very good at.  She asked me to watch her three year old on Sunday while she worked.  I’ve said no for many reasons, but the one that mostly stops me is that my granddaughter has anxiety when separated from her mother.  The quivering lip, tears rolling down her face, the endless “Where is Mommy?” and the experience of my being unable to console her, to the point that she vomits, was good for none of us.

This time I said, yes.  Yes I will watch her for the day.  Half way to Grammie’s House from the bus stop, she stopped and both our lips quivered.  It was such a beautiful day.  Suddenly an epiphany.  I’d forgotten how to raise kids.  My job was not to convince her nor to console her, as consolation is a choice to let somebody comfort you.  Maybe she wasn’t ready for me to console her, maybe my job was to distract her.

With renewed enthusiasm, I pulled all the arrows from my parenting quiver and this is what we did.

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Walked the Dogs

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Let Her Take Pictures of Me

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So I Could Get a Picture of Her

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Made and Hugged François, the Snowman

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Made a Tent Under the Dining Table

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Played with a Flashlight

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Read Books

We also went to the park to swing.  We played a memory game.  She played in the bath.  We  made scrambled eggs and while she crushed the shells with relish, she refused to eat anything I made until late in the afternoon.

It was not the first and last quiver, tear or question about Mommy, but we finally had an entire day where she did not get hysterical.  During the last walk with the dogs, dusk approaching, we walked in silence, only the crunch of snow under our boots.  I looked down to see her eyes looking shyly up at me with the smallest of smiles curving her rosy cheeks.  You know the kind of face a child offers up unconditionally and open and your heart lurches with love and gratefulness.

Ya that.

Choosing a Grandparent Name

Our grandmothers were called Nanny, of Scottish descent and PEI-born, and Grammie who migrated from Northern Ireland in 1928.   My own mother preferred to be called Grandie, a cute way of saying she was “grand”.  When it came time to choose my grandmother name, I leaned to the name Nanny, after my own who was a fiesty flapper girl with great stories and great taste.

My Grammie was soft, quiet and, except for her amazing shortbread, was rather nondescript.   A devout Methodist, she never smoked or drank and was always wearing a demure dress and an apron.  I’d thought I had a clear idea about who she was, then after my mother died I came across a large stash of old photographs.

Third from the Right, Lilian Pentland takes some air in the Canadian Rockies 1928.

Third from the Right, with some new friends, Lilian Pentland takes some air in the Canadian Rockies. Circa 1928.

From a Passenger List found through ancestry.com and our old sepia toned photographs, I got to know a very different person from the one I thought I knew.  For many Albertans in the 1900’s, exploring the great outdoors was the primary focus of leisure time with many a day spent on horseback or in canoes, swimming, fishing and, above all,  picnicking.  In all the pictures of my Lilian in Canada, before my dad and his brother were born, she wore pants like the jodhpurs seen above.  Since I’d only ever seen her in a dress, the pants shocked me and drove my an interest to learn about her life in Portadown and in Calgary.

At 24 years of age, Lilian Uprichard was still very much a girl when she landed in Canada to marry my Grampa, who’d come a year earlier to secure a job.  Not yet married and traveling alone, in the S.S. Montclare she crossed the Atlantic over seven days from Northern Ireland to Canada, then a train from Quebec to Alberta.  She married, set up house and birthed two children without family or girlfriends to support and advise her.

It warms the cockles of my heart to see my granddaughter running to me, little legs pumping, calling out, “Gwammie”.   I’m so grateful to have found that old photograph and know I’ve made the right choice of names.

Do you have a grandparent name story you would like to share?