Learning to take a compliment

Compliments are hard to manage for a well-adjusted woman, and even at my most confident I’ve never known what to do with them. However, right now, right in the midst of heartbreak and transition, if you give me a compliment I will poke a million holes in it. I will deflect like a boss. Make no mistake — I want the compliment, I just don’t know how to handle it when it arrives.

Example 1:

Them: “You look so beautiful in your photos!”
Me: “The photographer was amazing, and the lighting would have made a block of cheese look like a supermodel. We sure timed that right!”

Example 2: 
Them: “You have a real gift for writing, Danna.”
Me (via text to a friend): “How do I tell the difference between a pity, we-feel-sorry-for-you like, and a real like?”

When I’m wallowing there is not a compliment that I’ll believe, and there is not a nice thing you can say that I will trust entirely. 

(“Let’s face it,” sad me will say to myself, “if I were actually beautiful enough, then this probably wouldn’t be happening. If I were actually talented and funny and smart enough then I probably could have prevented my world from turning upside down.)  

But there is, thank Christ, a time limit on being pathetic. I can enjoy the food and music (sour jujubes and Adelle mostly), but I can’t move in and unpack. 

The antidote to being down in the dumps awash in self-pity, is, unsurprisingly, administered by women.

the gift of company

During my 42 years on this planet I’ve come to realize a universal truth  — the longer you live, the busier you become. I’ve heard life doesn’t even slow in retirement. Life, like skipping rope, just gets harder as you get older. And time for leisure becomes more scarce.

My own calendar is filled with work commitments, family commitments and other obligations, both in-person and virtual. There is never enough food in the fridge, the laundry is never done, and no matter how many times I walk the damn dog those big sad eyes will always be staring at me, begging for just one more trip around the ‘hood. I know I should go to bed earlier, but instead of sleeping I use the ever-shrinking time after the kids go to bed to tidy up, or to answer a couple of emails to get a head start on the next day.

There are always extra things to do. There is never extra time.

This is what life is like for all the women I know, but that hasn’t stopped them from showing up.

Despite the pressure put on these remarkable women to do everything and to be everything to everyone around them, they show up. These women are running businesses and raising families, but they pick up the phone and actually call. They give an hour, sometimes more, and fill up the silence that would otherwise eat me alive. 

They arrive, and they give, and holy shit, what a compliment. 

If I am enough for these women, then I am plenty. And even though you might not be able to hear it, or accept it, you, my friend, are pretty spectacular, too. 

Building a fantasy quarantine team

I’ve been thinking about my massage therapist a lot these days.

I wonder how he’s doing, and how he’s keeping busy, and I’ll be honest, I’m a little envious of his wife who had the forethought to marry an RMT. Was he an RMT when they met, or did she direct him toward his career path? Either way, I consider her an absolute genius.

I did not pick my partner based on the skills he could bring to a pandemic. I mean, his sense of humour has been a blessing, and he is wicked good at making Excel spreadsheets, but he is not an RMT, or a chiropractor. Neither of us are particularly good teachers, either, as it turns out.

Who makes the team?spreadsheet

Determining my fantasy quarantine team has taken up quite a bit of my imagination over the past several weeks as I itemize specific skills and discount others. Until recently I didn’t realize how handy it would be to be socially isolated with a hair stylist, or an esthetician.

And I would trade all the Excel spreadsheets in the world in order to add a fitness trainer and a nutrition coach to my roster, as all this self-isolated snacking is getting decidedly out of hand.

I also wouldn’t mind adding a bartender and a barista to my team, either.

There is room on my team for a pet groomer. I was eyeing up my husband’s electric moustache trimmer recently and noted that it was the PERFECT size for trimming the fluff around my doodle’s backside, but after a few moments of reflection I opted against it (because I’m a good person, and that would be a mean thing to do).

Mostly, though, I just miss my massage therapist. Being socially isolated with someone of his talents would be wicked handy. My home office is not ergonomic, and this momma has a neck kink like nobody’s business.

Open to trades

What do I have to trade? I’ve got a couple of budding comedians and fashion critics on the block. One of them can tell you just about everything you will ever need to know about Pokemon, and can also relate any aspect of your life to a Garfield comic. The other one will regale you with ego-boosting observations like: “What are you even wearing? Your shirt is super wrinkled and looks weird, but your hair is the worst part.” When he’s not offering up unsolicited comments on your attire, he will just jump out at you with a surprise high kick, or tackle you into a mid-afternoon wrestle-hug, which is another reason I’m on the lookout for an RMT.

Who is on your fantasy quarantine team?

The guilt of pandemic parenting

The guilt of parenting during a pandemic is heavier than any weighted blanket available on Amazon, and unlike a weighted blanket which is designed to reduce anxiety and improve sleep, it ratchets it up, and gives your brain more to consider as you lay awake, completely aware of how badly you’re failing at just about everything you’re doing right now.

Where I live, we’re in Week 3 of pandemic parenting, meaning while mom and dad work full time from home, we’re also providing full-time care to our children, which includes some educational instruction.

(I’d like to pause here and acknowledge that our pandemic situation is privileged. Privilege, in this case, looks like general good health, two parents, two pay cheques (for now), food in the fridge, an ample (but not excessive) amount of toilet paper, a bit of a backyard, and more sunny days than rainy ones. There’s even an uncertified therapy dog who is happy to absorb all of the angst and fear that comes from being locked up with your loved ones for days on end.)

I always wanted children, but I also knew that stay-at-home parenting was not my jam. I love grown-ups, and swearing, and solving grown-up problems. I love leaving behind my dirty laundry and mismatched socks in favour of a quiet office that I share with a five-year old orchid that blooms semi-annually. I love the sound of the office HVAC system, and I love my other office mate, a tiny blue space heater that only sees use in summer because the HVAC system lives in Opposite Land. I love going to work, I love being at work, and I love coming home from work to see faces I would die for — faces that I’ve missed so much and thought about so many times during the day. I love the car ride home from daycare because I get to hear all of their ridiculous stories. I love sharing adventures and kid gossip at the dinner table. I love weekends because it means I can stay home with my people because I miss them so much.

I always wanted children, but I also knew that teaching was not my jam. My mother is a teacher, my sister, too. I watch both and shake my head. Where they excel, I would flounder. Judging by my parenting style, if you put me in charge of a class full of 7-year-olds I would take turns bribing them with Dino-Sours and threatening to cancel Christmas. Adults, with their manners and passive-aggressive side-eyes, don’t scare me, but children are wise and cunning. Eventually they’d figure out that my threats are as empty as the bag of Dino-Sours that I inhaled in the cloak room. At which point I’d probably just run behind a plant and hide because 1. children are terrifying, 2. I have zero teaching tools and no desire to acquire them, and 3. unlike my sister and my mother, I lack the ultimate secret weapon: A teacher voice.

I always loved the routine provided by school, daycare and work, and the thrill I got from stacking all those perfect little glass jars so they balanced so perfectly and shone so beautifully that even the stiffest wind couldn’t knock them over. And yet here we are, in the midst of a pandemic, my glass jars of routine and sanity shattered on the driveway, and I am stuck in my house, working full time, parenting full time, and teaching, too.

I’ve got to say, I’m not a huge fan.

Screen Shot 2020-04-03 at 7.39.19 AMPandemic parenting means that I never get to miss my children, and they never get to miss each other. They are always here, always in my business and in each other’s. They wrestle constantly, stopping only when someone gets a bloody nose or a knee to the nuts, and when I suggest a directed drawing, some Reflex Math, or a visit to the Cincinnati Zoo (online, obviously), I’m met with a deep sigh and a “no thanks, I already know about hippos.”

Knees to the nuts it is, then.

And despite how much I joke about my lack of parenting skills, I always secretly thought I was pretty good at it. Until yesterday.

During my oldest child’s first Zoom videoconference with his class he opened up: “I miss everyone so much. I only ever get to talk to my little brother who argues all the time, or my mom and dad, and they’re always working.”

I overheard his comment while up in my office. Working.

And that, dear friends, is what parenting in a pandemic feels like — a heavy, weighted blanket of guilt — guilt that is bottomless and causes breathlessness even as I write it down.

 

Hey teacher, how about you pick the teams?

In honour of Pink Shirt Day how about we do something completely radical?

For one single day let’s cancel gym class, unilaterally — in every city, everywhere.

Or, maybe we could do something slightly less dramatic. Maybe we could implement a few minor changes. For starters, how about we end the time-honoured tradition of forcing children to line up while their peers select them for a team; a process that inevitably ends up with one child being the last selected, over and over again until he or she can finally opt out of gym as an elective in Grade 11.

Because really, what is this selection process if not socially acceptable bullying? Sure, it was how things worked in the 1980s when I was in elementary school, but that was before we wore pink shirts and used cute acronyms to describe ideal behaviour.

The fact is kids want to win. And while they may wish to be “Safe, Outstanding, Accountable, and Respectful (SOAR),” when you throw them into the Hunger Games Arena (or gymnasium) and tell them to pick their dodgeball team, they’re going to do the exact same thing we did when we were 10 and pick the kids who can throw hard and run fast. And the rest of the kids are going to stand in an ever-shrinking line with their cheeks burning just waiting for this humiliation to end.

I’ve written before about being a parent to child of many skills and talents, most of which are cerebral rather than physical. I adore my thoughtful, artistic son, the one who happily climbs trees and folds paper airplanes; the one who, if given a choice between a visit to the dentist and a stint on a soccer team, would choose his teeth every time.

But he must participate in gym, and generally he’s fine with it, though he cares little about whether he wins or loses. On this day, however, he cared. On this day he came home from school and told me of a day that “started off great, and then got worse.”

It was Tuesday. Gym day. His class was to play dodgeball, and two children were selected to choose teams.

“I was chosen first, which never happens,” he said, making me sigh.

But then his team started doing poorly, and another boy on his team took the loss seriously.

“He told me that I was the reason we were losing. And then I heard him tell his friend that he couldn’t believe I had been chosen first out of all the kids in the class. AND HE KNEW I COULD HEAR HIM!”

“What did you do,” I asked him.

“I turned to them and said, ‘hey, guys, I’m RIGHT HERE!’ And then they turned to me and said, ‘whatever.'”

What I heard from the story was that my son had been chosen first, and that another child was jealous. My son was steamed, and addressed it in the moment. The moment passed, they went back to class, and completed their day, but not without my son learning a harsh new lesson.

I’m not concerned about this child of mine. He is smart enough and has enough great friends that it doesn’t matter if he plays soccer or hockey, if he’s on the winning team or the losing team, or if gets picked first or picked last. Each day he comes home to a place where he is safe, he is loved, and if he ever feels like he can’t fight his own battles, he knows his home team will spring into action.

But I am concerned about gym class, especially for the kids who might not bounce back so easily. I bet if you did some research you’d discover school-aged bullying happens in a few key venues: The playground, online, and in gym class. We can’t cancel the internet, though it’d be nice to kill the comment section for a day. The kids need fresh air, so we can’t cancel recess. And as much as I personally would have liked to kibosh gym class to avoid the torture that was volleyball, I understand that kids need this, too.

However, in the 30-plus years since I was in elementary school, plenty has changed. Our kids are learning in entirely new ways and using new technologies. Cursive writing is dead, and report cards don’t even have grades anymore. Yet by all accounts gym class has stayed the same. Sure, physical activity is necessary. Sure, dodgeball may end up teaching more relevant skills than, say algebra, so I get we can’t cancel it. But in honour of Pink Shirt Day, maybe the bright lights among us can do something to make gym class slightly less cruel.

Maybe today on Pink Shirt Day the teacher can pick the teams.

 

 

 

 

A bottomless pit of parenting guilt

If you asked my kids what they did this summer (as I’m sure their teachers did today), they’d respond with the classic, “nothing,” and further elucidate that it was “fine.”

But let me tell you, their summer has been amazing. Stupendous. Chock full of memories galore.

Funny thing, though, just as we all begin flossing two days before our semi-annual dentist visit, I busted out the home reading books and sight words four days before the start of school.

And I groaned, and mentally chastised myself for letting the book-learning slip. My littlest child, for whom reading has never come easy, struggled through words that had stars behind them when he left his classroom on that final day in June. He grew frustrated and annoyed with my choice of books, and flatly refused to sit still, insisting that he’d read with me, “tomorrow” (which coincides with the day that my diet always starts).

What have my kids done this summer?

They’ve gone swimming more times that I can count. They’ve sailed down water slides, and turned over rocks looking for crabs. They’ve scooped up fistfuls of sand in a quest for clams, and took turns announcing theirs as the biggest, or most beautiful.

They’ve trapped jellyfish in travel mugs just to watch them pulse, and named them before setting them free. They strapped on lifejackets and paddled out into the surf in a kayak, one of them spotting a family of otters along the beach.

They’ve visited with grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles and cousins and even a great grandpa who refused to turn up his hearing aid so he couldn’t hear about great adventures, but warned us loudly (as he always does) to visit more, because he won’t last much longer.

They stayed up way past their bedtimes, and rode bikes and scooters in the neighbourhood with friends. They’ve bobbed around on lakes, and learned how to do backflips into pools. They’ve gone camping; they’ve eaten in restaurants and around fires.

I’ve ensured that they’ve experienced summer, its sunsets, its weird bugs and its skinned knees. They still smell of sunscreen even after they’ve bathed, or maybe they just smell of sunshine?

They’ve been healthy. There have been zero trips to the doctor, or late nights with big bowls. There have been no fevers, coughs, or stuffed noses.

But as the new school dawns I have so much guilt — not for the things we did do, but for the things we didn’t.

When our routine went out the window, so did the homework. Teachers ask us every year to keep up the great work, and to practice over the summer, but we didn’t, and that’s on me.

As is the case with so much of parenting, it’s easier to dwell on the activities that you didn’t do than it is to congratulate yourself for all of the things that you did. Contriving such amazing experiences requires boatloads of effort, and quite a bit of cash. Nightly reading and flossing is cheap by comparison.

But what does dental hygiene have to do with literacy? Guilt.

The guilt kicked in during a visit to the dentist last week where several cavities were detected. It was in this moment of handwringing that I began tallying up all the other ways I’ve failed my sweet children. Flossing. Reading. Probably not enough vegetables. They went to Sunday school with their grandma twice though, so that had to count for something.

How did I let this happen? Was it too many campfire marshmallows, and not enough gargling around the fire? Probably.

While looking into my child’s mouth the dentist saw the thing I didn’t do well enough, not the 999 incredible things I did. When my children head back to school this week, their teachers will sigh and see where I cut corners. They may even imagine my nightly refrain: “That’s OK. You’re tired. We’ll read tomorrow.”

And the guilt makes my tummy hurt.

So, here’s to the start of the new school year, the start of a routine that includes fewer campfires and jellyfish, and more vowels and fractions. Let’s give a cheer to those food groups we’ll welcome back into our lives again, and for the oral health that will once again take centre stage.

Mind you, if you were to ask my children what they did this summer, and they answered, “brush, floss, and practice sight words,” I’d probably get a failing grade also.

There’s no climbing out of this bottomless pit of parenting guilt.