Child Plays Without Direct Supervision: World is Stunned 

What’s this world coming to? 

It was fucking anarchy. Kids coming to our cottage door at the resort we were staying at, seeing if my precious one was free to come out and play. 

I looked at my calendar on my phone : “Did we have something scheduled?”

“No…” they replied sheepishly, kicking the dirt at the base of my stairs with the tips of their well worn sneakers. 

“Well then…” I replied, almost gleeful in my righteousness. 

“But can she?” they persisted. 

“Well…” And just as I was about to start my finger wagging lecture on safety, a blur flew past me at the door, grabbing the kids by their hands and dragging them away. I didn’t see her again for three hours—though I heard her yells as they played capture the flag or tag. 

I sat in my little cottage, sick with worry, until she came strolling in, declaring that intense thirst and the need for marshmallows were now taking priority. 

Oh, what to do?

Okay, that’s not really what happened. What really happened was an experience like none other.

The resort was smallish and many of the cottages had families in them. By the second night, the kids were congregating on the main lawn after dinner to play whatever they felt like playing. We parents and grandparents hung out by the fire pit with plastic cups, containing our individual poisons. And it was bliss. 

Every once in a while, I saw her blonde hair streak by. I heard her not easy to miss voice. And until about 10 pm every night, this was the deal: don’t go near the road or on the docks. Other than that, have fun. 

She had so much of it. Fun, that is. No screens. No toys. Just imagination and mosquitoes. The freedom to run and play without having to check in every five seconds. 

I didn’t know the other families before we arrived; I met them all at the pool or by the side of the fire pit. 


Rightly or wrongly, I felt immediately comfortable knowing that this village was watching over all of our littles. 
In an era of scheduling and hovering—something I am as guilty of as most any other parent—this week of retro style freedom will be one we both cherish in our memories for a long time to come. 

A Little Help… With Dinner

If you know me at all, you know I hate cooking. If I could have a full time chef for free, or a housekeeper, I’d pick chef every single day of the week and twice on Sundays. 

I also hate buying endless ingredients that don’t end up getting used up before they go fuzzy on me. It can be an expensive  proposition if you aren’t particularly gifted at planning meals that will use up that extra sauce or bunch of greens. Like someone who buys $25 in craft supplies to DIY something they could have bought finished online for $10. Yes, I realize it is about the journey but, and I repeat, I hate cooking. 

It’s kind of ironic too because I really enjoying eating. But planning and preparing three meals a day is just not my idea of a good time and I’ve reached an age where copping out is a-okay. 

I came across a Facebook post about Chef’s Plate – it’s a service where they send you everything you need to cook a lovely meal, in the right proportions, for either two or four people. 

Done

I ordered three meals for two people, to try it out. Normal price: $65 

(I did use a publicly available discount code to reduce that cost but I’m not being paid by Chef’s Plate, in case you were wondering!)

Takeout Japanese food (or Indian or Thai or whatever) is easily $50 for one meal that covers grandma, kiddo and I. This week, we opted  to skip takeout. 

I’m glad we did. 

I ordered online, scheduled delivery for yesterday and “ding dong”… There it was: 

The first of our three meals was Tilapia parcels. It took no time at all to prep. Here it is just prior to going in the oven: 


Here it is 20 minutes later:


There was enough for the three of us — and kiddo asked for seconds on the fish. 

So… Could I have made this dish for less than we paid? Probably. But we’d have extra grape tomatoes going wrinkly—because you can’t buy just 8—yellow beans going limp, and parsley… Well, don’t get me started on the parsley. Now? I have nothing wilting or icky in the fridge. 

Happy camper in the house!

Tonight is Ramen Noodle Bowls. Stay tuned!

#chefsplateca 

No Valentine’s Day Cards This Year

I’ve spent the day (no, not really. I did other things too) trying to decide if my daughter’s decision not to hand out Valentine’s Day cards at school was selfish or smart.

It all started a week and a half ago in the aisles of our local pharmacy. I saw a box of cards with a character she likes and suggested we buy them for handing out.

“No thanks.”

“Oh. Do you mean you want to hand out something else?”

“No. I don’t want to hand out anything.”

Huh. This was a new one.

A little poking and prodding later, I got to the meat of the problem: her teacher had imposed an all or no one rule. In other words, if your child wanted to hand out Valentine’s cards / stickers / whatnot, they had to give one to everyone in the class or none at all. Fair enough: Mrs. S. has better things to do than spend the afternoon dealing with drama and hurt feelings because so-and-so got a card but so-and-so didn’t.

Nikki didn’t want to give a card to everyone. She felt it was unfair that she was being forced to send what are ostensibly messages of love and friendship to people she disliked or at least didn’t see eye to eye with. Fair enough too. Her response was that she would hand out something to her friends at another time: some cool erasers we saw at the toy store the week before would be just the ticket. “And it won’t be so much money because there are only…” and she stopped to count on her fingers… “six people I want to give them to.”

We spend a lot of time telling kids that they don’t have to hug people that they don’t want to; that they should express their true feelings about things and never be fake. Well, Nikki was demonstrating that full on. Yet, I couldn’t help thinking that she was being a wee bit selfish. After all, what would it cost her to hand out a “Smencil” to each and every kid, even the one who knocks her into her bag every other day while she’s struggling to get her snow pants off?

I wondered if perhaps my thoughts on her being selfish were more a question of my being afraid of other people’s perceptions with regards to the ‘no card’ decision rather than the actual reality.

So, I decided that she had the right to decide who she was going to send messages of friendship to and if that wasn’t everyone, it would have to be no one. A stronger position than I would EVER have been able to take at that age (seven) and more power to her.

 

Where Does an Introverted Hobbit go for End of Summer Vacay?

To the busiest place on earth: Blue Mountain Village.

As a single parent, finding places where the kiddo will meet up with other kiddos and play so that mommy can read behind her sunglasses while luxuriating on a deck chair is priority one. Of course, I get in the water and play too but I don’t have her 6 year old stamina and require the odd break from “Mommy, watch this!”

Blue Mountain was our choice for an end of summer wee getaway and my daughter loved it. Which was the point. Me? Not as much but that’s because my idea of a vacation is a cabin far away with a hot tub, unlimited wine and books and a chef who only shows up when I ring the bell. Kind of like on Downton Abbey. I don’t enjoy crowds at the best of times.

I digress.

We stayed at the more affordable Blue Mountain Inn, which was only a 3 minute walk from the village instead of a pricier condo or the Westin, right in the village. When we arrived on Sunday night, I had no inkling of what was in store as we did not pass through the village on the way to our home away from home. We changed out of travel clothes and into something appropriate for dinner and took ourselves down the path, like Goldilocks. We ran smack into the three bears and the three bears’ whole freaking family, otherwise known as the  veritable wall of people that was the village on this day. Did I mention I was an introverted hobbit by nature?

We toured the village, examined the menus at the various restaurants, most of which were declared as ‘gross’ by my non-foodie child and wound our way around to … wait for it… the toy store. Luckily, it was not the kind of store that stocked Nikki’s usual addictions. Not a Shopkin or Monster High doll in sight. We picked up a princess and play-doh kit and went in search of sustenance.

The restaurants are varied enough and I made an executive decision to pick one that had patio space – after all, it’s an end of summer outing and we will be seeing the inside of four walls day after day soon enough. I asked the waitress if the crowds were normal for the resort.

“Nooo… Not really. I mean, I only work here one night a week but I haven’t seen crowds like this since July. But there is a conference in, something about the Churches of Lost Glory or something?”

Oh boy.

“But don’t worry, they’ll be going home tomorrow.”

And with those few words, my day was salvaged, dinner was consumed and Starbucks procured. Thank goodness for the Starbucks.

The next day was reserved for pottery painting at Crock A Doodle, which was actually really fun. We got there early so… not too crowded (PHEW!). We got the last table at Sunset Grill for “brunch” (can you have brunch when technically it’s Monday? I don’t know. But we did.) and then took ourselves over to Plunge! Aquatic park. Now this… this was worth all the people talking to their friends and not looking where they were going, narrowly missing dropping a BeaverTail on us. It was worth all the kids on scooters barrelling through the crowds and overpriced everything that Nikki wanted one of each of so that I had to spend the better part of my day perfecting the word ‘NO!’

We absolutely loved the park. From the splash pad to the shallow indoor pool to passing under the window to walk out to the bath water temperature outdoor pool, this was the point of the trip and it did not disappoint.

I had to convince Nikki to try the little water slide – by going down first myself. What won’t we do for our kids? Imagine an ill-

Girl on water slide at Plunge! Aquatic Centre

No. This is not me. Obviously. Picture from the Plunge! website photo gallery.

fitting ruched red bathing suit with too much limb and bits coming out every which way sliding down the water slide, arms raised and screaming ‘WEEEEEEEE’ to make sure the six year old sees the value in following her Mom? That was me.

After the first slide, she was hooked. Up and down, up and down, the whole afternoon. I watched most of the time, from the depths of the enormous bathtub and went down a few more times … almost five hours of finger wrinkling good fun.

I finally dragged her away just before 5 pm, we went ‘home’ and changed for dinner, electing this time a pizza based restaurant with no pizza on the children’s menu. I didn’t care. I had a vodka martini. By 9 pm, we were both in bed, dead to the world. You know it’s a good day when your six year old whines: “Turn out the light, mommy. I’m tired!”

With pleasure, my dearest…

Counting the Quarters

When I first started giving my daughter an allowance – $3/week – at the age of 6, it seemed to be a big old waste of time. She wasn’t getting the concept at all despite the fact that I was making her use it for the almost daily trips to the dollar store.

In the early days, I was a great big sucker and did this… Every. Single. Time.

But I persisted and toughened up a little. How? By just doing it. Why? Because Nikki wasn’t learning a thing otherwise. As the trips to the dollar store dwindled in proportion to the contents of her pink Hello Kitty wallet, she began to understand.

It became VERY clear to her when we were at an actual toy store – with the good stuff like Shopkins and Monster High dolls – saving money in a piggy bankand she couldn’t buy anything because Hello Kitty was totally empty. She cried. I very nearly cried too. But the lesson was learned because this morning, she announced that she wanted to do any extra chores I might have as we are going away next week and she wanted to be sure to have spending money over and above her allowance.

Hallelujah, she’s getting the message.

Let me be clear: I don’t pay for the chores she has to do as a member of this family and, you know, because I feed her and everything. But I am willing to pay for things that fall outside of her chore list. Like cleaning the car of all the floor detritus (that she dropped there); or cleaning up the porch of all of the mess (her toys)… You’re getting the picture, right?

So far, we’ve been working on the idea of only spending what you have – no credit. Next will be saving for what you want – delayed gratification. I think this will be a hard step for her (and for me) but here we go…

Stay tuned…

Universal Basic Income – What do YOU Think?

I came across an article this morning about the idea of a universal basic income. It’s not a new concept but it is one that keeps re-surfacing every so often.

Basically, the premise is that everyone over the age of 18 would be paid a basic guaranteed income, say $1000 / month. Everyone. universal basic income 1000 dollar bill

The concept leads to a lot of questions: how would we pay for it? What about people who are already wealthy (the 1% kind of wealthy, not the big house in Toronto house rich but cash poor variety)? Would people work less or would they work more?

I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I will speak for me. $1000 / month basic income would mean freedom to pursue some of my dreams. I would be able to step beyond Maslow’s Hierarchy base line of physiological needs and into the area of safety. It would open the door for me to be able to continue climbing that pyramid.

I remember reading a story about an author – whose name I can’t recall at the moment (if someone knows this story, please remind me who it was!) – who wanted to finish her book and said to a friend that she just needed 6 months and $6000 to do it. A day later, a shoe box arrived with $6000 in it. No excuse now, right?

That’s an unlikely scenario for most of us but it wouldn’t be if universal basic income was a reality. Businesses could be launched, books written, symphonies composed if only we knew that we could buy bread at the end of the day.

Economically, it makes sense: 

The makers of bread make bread, and sell it to stores, so that people with the money to buy bread, can buy bread. If bread isn’t getting bought, less bread is made. If all the bread is getting bought, more bread is made. Those who make the bread aren’t making a top-down decision on how much bread to make. They are listening to market forces, and the decision is bottom-up. This is perfect, right? Just the right amount of bread is getting made and at just the right price. No, it’s not. Why? And how can this be improved?

Right now only those with the means to pay for bread have a voice for bread. We love to use the term, “voting with our dollars”. So is the outcome of that daily election accurate? Does everyone have a voice for bread? No, they don’t. There are people with no voice, because they have no dollars. The only way to make sure the market is working as efficiently and effectively as possible to determine what should be getting made, how much to make of it, and where to distribute it, is to make sure everyone has at the very minimum, the means to vote for bread.

I’m sure it’s a pipe dream that won’t happen in my lifetime, or even my daughter’s but it’s a dream worth at least investigating, don’t you think?

What DO you think?

ADDENDUM: The author of the original piece quoted in this post, Scott Santens, tweeted me this piece: Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird thanks to a gifted basic income! Fascinating!

ADDENDUM 2: The author I was trying to remember is Camilla Gibb!

Break out the Spam Cans: There’s a Boob in the Room!

I was reading the NYTimes the other day and there was an article about New York area airports installing breastfeeding pods. They are aptly named because that’s what they looked like: escape pods from Star Trek. Or a supersized port-a-potty.

The idea was to provide a place where women could comfortably breastfeed their children in privacy.

A friend of mine commented that it looked like a spam can. You know, the ones with the metal key that you use to roll it

Breastfeeding pod

Seventh Generation pod – image from NYTimes.com

open? She’s right. I can see what the airports are trying to achieve by making these pods available but I know for sure that some poor mom who doesn’t want to use one is going to be shamed into it by airport staff or members of the public. It’s just a matter of time.

At what point did we become so afraid of boobs? Or should I call them breasts, if you are sensitive to my vernacular? Perhaps we should call them tatas? Or tits? Perhaps boobies?

There is no more terrifying part of the anatomy for most people than the breast. And I don’t get why. We ALL have them. I would have thought that something that men have too would make society more accepting of them, given that we still live in that kind of a world, but no, apparently not. And it’s not like I’m talking about those scary metal cones that Madonna was sporting a few years ago. I’m talking about real flesh and blood!

To many people, though thankfully by no means all, breastfeeding is at worst gross and unsanitary or, at best, should be shrouded in secrecy and hidden in a spam can. No wonder more women aren’t doing it.

Oh Captain! My Captain!

Have you ever met someone you idolized, in real life? Or at least been in the same room with them? I had a girl crush on Megan Follows after her performance in Anne of Green Gables. I could recite ever one of her lines and totally wanted to be her. So when my parents found out she was going to be appearing as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet at the Stratford Festivals, my birthday present that year was EASILY resolved.

I sat in that theatre and when she appeared on stage, I cried. Yes, I cried. I was SO excited to be near her that I wiggled like a demented octopus, all arms and legs and little else. Though I never met or spoke with her, I just knew we were kindred spirits.

Many years later, I assumed myself to be immune to that kind of glowing excitement, that fandom that causes us to clap and scream and act like 14 year old girls at a One Direction concert. I really thought that at almost 43, this was behind me.  Apparently not.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

~ Walt Whitman

Kate Mulgrew -- Source: IMDB.com

Kate Mulgrew — Source: IMDB.com

Kate Mulgrew (as Captain Kathryn Janeway), in one of the greatest acting roles, brought her fiesty no-nonsense character to life on “Star Trek: Voyager”:

“Ironically, Janeway’s inaugural mission aboard Voyager was to be her last in the Alpha quadrant.  While attempting to capture the crew of a renegade Maquis vessel, both her ship and that of the Maquis were pulled into the distant Delta quadrant by powerful alien technology.  Unfortunately, there would be no similar “express” route to take them home again.  Stranded 70,000 light-years from Earth, Janeway convinced the Maquis to join her Starfleet crew and serve together during the long voyage back to Federation space.”1

Yet when I think of Captain Janeway, or more specifically of the actress Kate Mulgrew, I will now and forevermore think: “Oh Captain! My Captain!”

I had the privilege the other evening to sit in the Bluma Appel theatre at the Toronto Reference Library and listen to a sold out conversation with Kate Mulgrew and the Globe and Mail’s Elizabeth Renzetti. Myself and at least 100 or more other people stood in line and sat in the theatre and cheered deafeningly when she arrived, me as much as anyone. It’s not like I really followed her career closely before reading her book but being in the room, a few feet away from her, I got totally carried away! It was Megan all over again.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring evening. Anyone who thought that acting was merely her ‘job’ was wrong. She IS a consummate actress; it’s part and parcel of her very DNA and watching that unfold on stage on the last stop of what must have been a seemingly endless book tour for her new memoir ‘Born with Teeth’ made her words seem all the more compelling. She was funny, articulate and completely enjoyable to experience in real life and on the printed page.

She has lived and worked and lived because of her work. She has triumphed and she has failed but now at the age of 60, which she proudly proclaims, she is choosing a new life. I am ever awed by people who can make these choices, regardless of age or experience or position in life. I am awed by the sheer will power it takes to fly in the face of what seems perfectly reasonable and put into action that which seems perfectly crazy and make it work. Kudos to you, Kate!

1. http://startrek.com/page/star-trek-voyager

It’s not Really About Stranger Danger…

“If you go down to the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise.”*

Okay, Anne Murray was talking about teddy bears and not whackadoodle strangers who are supposedly lurking behind every bush and parked car, just waiting for our kids to jump out and snatch them, but the sentiment is right.

Or is it?

Our fear of stranger danger that we then instill in our children is ever growing and, no thanks to the 24/7 media news cycle, it often feels justified. I was watching TV5Monde a few nights ago when the story aired of a young French girl being snatched from the play ground right in front of her apartment building while she had been playing with a friend, under the supervision of the friend’s step-father. The step-father saw the man snatch Chloe and Chloe’s mother, who arrived on scene right at that moment, ran around the building screaming for her daughter, just in time to see her being shoved in the car by the man who has now admitted to taking her. Chloe was found dead three hours later, strangled and sexually assaulted, according to police.

Chloe’s mother, who was present, burst into panicked screams as the man, described by witnesses as bald and wearing sunglasses, shoved her daughter into his car. (quote from above linked article)

It’s the stuff of all of our nightmares.

To further the nightmare, one need only read a few comments about the case, posted in the days and hours after it happened. Comments that suggested that the friend’s step-dad should have done more to stop the man. Comments from people who were not there and could not possibly really know how it all went down.

Franchement écœurée dans un premier temps du beau père de la copine!!! Je comprend pas comment il n’a pas pu réagir! (translation: Frankly disgusted at first the stepfather’s girlfriend !!! I do not understand how he could not react!)

Or this one:

Désolé mais j’ai une question? Pourquoi la maman à-t-elle laissé sa fillette sans surveillance (ou sans celle d’un autre adulte) surtout lorsqu’on sait le temps que cela prendre pour changer deux enfants de 4 et 5 ans? (translation: Sorry but I have a question? Why did the mom leave her child unattended (or without that of another adult) especially when we know how long it will take to change two children 4 and 5 years?

Sure, we can dismiss these comments as being insensitive and mean spirited, but the reality is, as I watched Chloe’s story unfold on television, I asked myself when the first “judgment comment” would come out, who would be the first to say it, online or out loud. I knew it would happen. It was just a question of when and where. Thankfully, these types of comments weren’t the majority, but they were still there, insidious and horrible, creeping in.

Elizabeth Renzetti was, as usual, eloquent and to the point in her Globe and Mail piece this past weekend on the question of letting our kids be kids (“Get Over the Stranger Danger and Join the Free Rangers” ) but I felt a particular affinity for Rob from Calgary, who commented on the piece online:

article24015272-

I agree. Our rational minds know the statistics. We know that our kids are more likely to be hurt by someone they know than by a random stranger. Crime rates are down in Canada and overall, it’s more dangerous to drive around in the big SUV than it is to play in the park. But even I had a moment of hesitation, not long ago. I hesitated to leave my daughter in the car for the 3 seconds it was going to take to walk from the spot RIGHT IN FRONT of the library to the book drop slot, having taken the keys with me and all. I hesitated not because I thought she might be in danger from a stranger but because someone might see me do it. Rational? Probably not. But it happened that way. Of course, I did leave her and it did take me all of three seconds. Afterwards, I felt stupid for letting fear of judgement get in the way of rational thought. But I’m not entirely sure that the thought won’t cross my mind again the next time.

*Read more: Anne Murray – Teddy Bear’s Picnic Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Homework that is Lost in Translation

“The reasons for homework are pedagogically unsound,” she said. “You either ask a student who has already mastered a concept to do more of that concept—which is essentially busywork. Or, you send a child who has not mastered the concept home to practice and they will likely practice incorrectly, unless they have assistance.”*

This. This is why I hate homework (also? the article, which is referenced at the end of this post, is good! Go give it a read! After you’ve finished this post, of course. Not before. Stop scrolling. Now.)

I was working with Nikki on some easy additions, as requested by her teacher on a homework sheet. With no explicit instructions from the latter, I wrote a few equations in Nikki’s notebook to try. Example of the hardest one I added?

11

+11

——-

I showed her how I learned to do it, starting with adding up the right column and going left. She got it and with no help from me, when she reached the equation shown above, she got to the right answer.

Then she came home the next day and told me I was doing it wrong. Her teacher said to her that they don’t do it that way anymore. So I asked her how she would do it. And she wrote: 11+11 = ____  She was supposed to use other “visual” methods to figure it out, like drawing, fingers, beads or whatever.

Obviously there is a method to what looks like a madness of little beads to me (or at least I hope so) and probably something that is being lost in translation from the school room to the homework table, so of course I didn’t fight it. I don’t want to create division where Nikki doesn’t know whom to believe: Mom or Teacher. The poor kid struggles enough with most new concepts at school: having me do it ‘differently’ only confuses the situation.

So we got an iPad app that uses the same visuals as the kids use and she and I work on that. She likes it: it’s more like a game that way and less like sitting at a desk with a workbook in front of her and we work on it semi-regularly, but certainly not in a ‘scheduled’ way. It does leave me pondering what we’ll do when it comes to the higher levels of math learning. All I can say is that I hope to goodness there is an app for that!

* Why More and More Parents Are Opting Their Kids Out of Homework