Motherhood

Homage to Josephine…and Christine

Today is the birthday of ma belle Christine and I thought I’d dig out this short piece I wrote in the MANDATORY creative writing class I took during the Print Futures Professional Writing Program back in the day (2003-2006). As you can maybe tell from my tone…creative writing isn’t one of my strong suits. This was about 17 years ago so Karis was four and just about to start Mulgrave; my lovely godchildren were aged seven (Georgia) and ten (Dylan). 

Yep, it’s a bit cringey and yep, I edited it to the best of my ability because I am just not that person who can or will publish really cringey work and be OK about it maybe it’s a thing if you’re famous? I also had to correct the tenses so it makes sense now. It’s still unsophisticated but it’s about CHRISTINE (and today is her BIRTHDAY—December 9th) so I’ve gotten over myself and I’m posting it! As you’ll see…this type of writing isn’t really my forte.

BACKGROUND

For years, every Christmas, Christine and I used to have our Book Exchange. In place of trivial knick knacks that were expensive to mail (she was living in Nelson at the time), I suggested a book exchange. The rules were: one book only, no boxed sets; hardcover or paperback; a novel you have read and loved. The book she chose for me for Christmas 2002 was Sandra Gulland’s the many lives and secret sorrows of Josephine B. (And yes, that is how the author wrote it…sans capitalization…see image.)

The exchange of books is not merely an easy out for problematic gift buying. We choose our books with care. She chose this book for me because aspects of Josephine Bonaparte reminded her of me. Another reason why she chose this book is because we are both Francophiles. We met in Europe in 1989 on a six-week Art History tour through by Langara College and have been kindred spirits ever since. We both love Paris, its people, history, buildings, museums, and that certain je ne sais quois that other cities don’t seem to have. Also the bread. From this book, an idea took shape that resulted in a trip to Paris, a visit to the Chateau Malmaison and the gift of time.

PARIS: August 2003

Paris via Manchester. Air France flight 403 was carrying Christine and I and only ten other brave souls flying to the ‘City of Light’ to experience the soaring 40° plus heat of August 2003—it was actually a significant heat event in that over 15 000 people died in Paris alone and temperatures hit 111°F! Christine and I were so thrilled to be away from our respective husbands and children that the heat barely dampened our spirits. Yet.

It had all started with our Christmas book exchange. Christine wanted to break one of our “rules” to give me a boxed set of “the best books she had read in a long time.” I stood firm though; one book only (we’re both known for excess). I received the many lives and secret sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland, the first in a trilogy. Little did I know that this innocuous trade paperback would lead us to Paris to walk in the footsteps of Josephine Bonaparte.

Christine and I met in London in 1989 on a three-month European Art History Tour (this tour was actually awesome and so valuable and pivotal to my life and I’m SO GLAD I did it even though I was enormously opposed to ‘group travel’ at the outset and only went because Tracey made me) and knew instantly that we would be friends. Though our lives have taken very different paths, we remain close. Her children are my godchildren and mine is hers. She lives in Nelson and we get together about four times a year, which is not nearly enough. (UPDATE: She lives in VanCity and my godchildren are now adults 😱 and I don’t see her very much because she works in the film industry and the plague.)

Christine and I in a train station in Italy…possibly Rome…when we first met on the Langara Art History Tour 1989

I had had the good fortune of traveling quite a bit in the early 2000s and every time I went anywhere, especially Paris, I always asked, “If you can buy the ticket, I’ve got the hotel room anyway…” 

Little did I know that this particular time she would pause and say, “You know…, I think I may be able to swing something this time. I’ll talk to James and get back to you.”

I was elated. This had never happened before. It was always “maybe next time when we have more money” or “when the kids are older.”

Christine belongs in Paris. Armed with her eyelash curler, red lipstick, and nail polish, she always looks classic and elegant. She is that person who wears clothes well as my mum would say. She’s got an eye for fashion and always has whether it’s an outfit from a high-end store or a thrifted vintage piece. She is a gourmet cook and she believes that life is too short for cheap chocolate and Costco bread. Her formal education is incomplete as she dropped out of college to give birth to my godson; however, the nuns taught her well and she is one of the cleverest, well-read people I know. She can speak knowledgeably about art, architecture, films and politics AND she actually looks at all the paintings in the museums. When I picture Christine in my mind’s eye, she is sitting at a sidewalk café with a cigarette (not anymore though— qu’elle horror!) and a café au lait

We decided that Josephine’s life would be the theme of our trip to Paris with the highlight being a visit to the Chateau Malmaison — not the best name as it means ‘evil house’ — see here for some history —which is kinda like the Milan airport being called Malpensa which can be roughly translated as ‘bad air’ and doesn’t sound very auspicious for an airport in my opinion. ANYWAY, this comparatively small house on the outskirts of Paris was the last place Napoleon and Josephine lived together. Malmaison was also where she died just five years after Napoleon has their marriage annulled to marry Marie-Louise of Austria in order to provide a legitimate heir for the French Republic. Which he did.

As our plane touched down and taxied to the terminal we could feel the heat even though it was the middle of the night. We entered the terminal and retrieved our luggage in relative comfort; however, as soon as we went outdoors it felt similar to Bangkok in June — hot, steamy and polluted. Weather like that was unusual for Paris. We cared little though; we were together in Paris, we were there for a week and there were no children or husbands! What utter bliss.

The city was buzzing, even though it was well past one am and the temperature had only cooled to a mere 38°C. The taxi driver drove with the windows open as his air-conditioning could not keep up with the heat. He told us this temperature was average in his home country of Nigeria and assured us that we would acclimatize. I seriously doubted it. 

Our hotel, which was just across the street from the Pantheon and was appropriately named Hotêl du Pantheon, was beautiful and quaint, though the staff looked harried and hot and were seen muttering “…fait chaud, tres chaud” under their breath. It was slightly cooler inside than out, though the continuous stream of water from garden hose rigged over the air-conditioning unit in the inner courtyard was slightly alarming. The clerk informed us that the air-conditioning unit had a “petite” fire as it was unused to coping with 40°C+ heat, but was now fixed (it was not). Since it was still so hot and we were too excited to sleep we decided to go out. 

We wandered down the road towards the Luxembourg Gardens. The gardens were locked (I believe they did end up leaving the gardens open as the heat wave continued), but the roads were still busy with people out having drinks, smoking, and walking their dogs, still formally dressed despite the heat and the fact that it was the middle of the night. Christine lit up a cigarette and decided that her self-imposed limit of one cigarette per day did not apply while in Paris. As we wound down toward the Seine we saw the last Batobus leaving. “Should we go for it?” I wondered out loud. (Cringe. Dialogue is challenging to write naturally.)

“Why not? We’ll never sleep anyway and maybe there’ll be a breeze on the boat.” The sea breeze we had hoped for more closely resembled being blown with a hair dryer and was not remotely refreshing. We didn’t care as we sat on the top deck in the front row, half listening to the garbled four-language commentary while checking out our fellow sweaty, tired passengers. 

Just past Pont Neuf there were four grandstand areas that opened on to the river. Each one had music and people dancing on the stage—just regular people, not professional dancers. One stage had an actual band playing big band favorites and people were jitterbugging! In the middle of the night! Another one had ballroom dancing and yet another had break dancing. (I often wonder if this still happens.)

Most of the buildings along the Seine were floodlit emphasizing their Gothic, Napoleonic, or Art Nouveau origins. The Eiffel tower twinkled in the distance. People who lived in houseboats along the river were out on their decks, smoking, drinking, and calling out to each other. Strangely enough, on this polluted grey river the air smelled like summer and there seemed to be music everywhere. Reluctantly we headed back to our stuffy hotel room around 4 am. (And sat with our feet in the bathtub filled with ice drinking Champagne because it was too hot to sleep. Ever.)

The next day we got down to exploring the Paris that Josephine would have known. It was so incredibly hot that it worked best to keep moving very slowly and never stop because the momentum necessary to start moving again was too much to summon in the heat. We checked out all the “Napoleonic” sights: Les Invalides (Napoleon’s tomb), La Madeleine (church inaugurated during Napoleon’s reign), and the two Arc de Triomhpes: Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (the BIG one) and Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (by the Louvre). The heat sapped our strength and our initiative and we ended up spending a lot of time exploring Les Galeries Lafayette, Paris’ oldest department store, as it had the best air conditioning in the city. And it’s really quite something to see anyway—the lingerie, linens and children’s wear are epic. We ate breakfast at the hotel because it was free and served in the cool basement (la cave) and mainly ate ice cream for the rest of the day because it was impossible to sit at a cafe and eat with sweat pouring off your body. 

During the next few days, we did the run of the tourist gamut, maybe more so because Christine hadn’t been out of the country for fourteen years (aforementioned children). We signed up for the “Eiffel Tower at Night/Moulin Rouge” tour and had dinner at the restaurant on the premier étage, of the Eiffel Tower, with the senior tourist set. It was actually fun and the view was stupendous. In the spirit of never-having-done-it-yet-or-again, we took the stairs to the bottom of the tower and forfeited our “transport to the famous Moulin Rouge.” We caught a cab with our new friends from New York to Montmarte to rejoin our group of blue-haired American tourists and claim our complimentary glass of champagne at the Moulin Rouge (where one of Karis’s jazz teachers danced for years) before the show started. Kinda cheesy but fun to be honest. 

We went to Versailles and Giverny in pursuit of art and flowers. The heat was mind numbing; Christine slept on the way to Giverny and I took an abbreviated tour of Versailles in order to sit with my feet in one of its numerous fountains. The Louvre, the Musée D’Orsay and the Musée de la Mode et du costume de la ville de Paris (now the Palais Galliera) were enchanting as well as wonderfully cool—gotta take good care of the art. The numerous tiny galleries in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area were not so cool, but were equally enchanting. 

The pinnacle of our trip was to be a journey to Château de Malmaison — Josephine’s last home. We kept putting off this excursion in fond hopes that the weather would cool down as the journey involved the Metro, the bus and a bit of walking—formidable in any temperature—but over an hour in 40°+ is daunting. We asked our sweaty, yet chic hotel receptionist how we would get to Malmaison if we should decide to brave the transit system. “Hmm, Malmaison, ce n’est pas possible…trés difficile… peut-être un taxi?” We explained that we thought a taxi would cost over 200 Euros and that would be too much. “No, No, I will telephone Maxine, she will come—100 Euros only!” I wondered who Maxine was—her mother, her sister, a friend? Maxine—who turned out to be a bona fide cab driver—subsequently arrived and drove us to Malmaison, puzzled that two Canadian housewives would have such an interest in an obscure and not particularly well-kept chateau outside of Paris. We haltingly explained about Josephine and the books in our very basic French. I think she thought we were writing the books ourselves. 

Malmaison was a charming house set on once-beautiful grounds. The grass was dry and long and the famous rose garden was faded and brown from the heat (reminded me of the BC Heat Dome in summer 2021). These minor details did not detract from our excitement at actually arriving at our destination—the end of our odyssey (so dramatic). As we wandered through Malmaison looking at the very rooms that Josephine had lived in, the view she saw from her morning room, and many of her clothes and personal effects, we were awed by a sense of history that was tempered with sadness. This was the house of a woman who had died alone because her husband had put his duty to the “Republic of France” before his love for her. A man who insisted she change her name from Rose to Josephine because “she looked more like a Josephine.” This was the house of a woman that would have been ordinary would it not have been for her extraordinary life. 

Our pilgrimage to Malmaison was the pinnacle of what was really a journey about us and our friendship. Having a week to ourselves to talk all night, eat whenever we wanted, shop to our hearts content and be responsible to no one but ourselves was the real journey. Our busy lives, husbands and children took our time and energy, which we freely gave; however, this time was just for us, no responsibilities, no ties, no “Mummy do you have my hat?”; “Honey, where is the map?”; “How much is that in dollars?”. It was a break from being the holder of the map; the tour guide; the carrier of band-aids, money, cold drinks, sunscreen, bus tickets, guide-books, crayons and paper, snacks and sundries. It was a respite from being responsible and in charge, in short, from being a mum. For eight fabulous days we had the freedom to walk out of the hotel room whenever we wanted, completely unencumbered, to do whatever we chose in our favorite city and that was our ultimate homage to Josephine.

Hyperfocus on Graduation, Life and Publishing.

So…the child actually graduated which I’m sure you all know by now. The graduation year started with pre-grade 12 parties last summer, a grad sleepover, a boat cruise, a football game (I think), a semi-formal, pre-pre-grad parties, an actual pre-grad party (with parents), the party bus (also with parents, don’t ask), the grad ball, the after-grad party (also with parents…go figure), the post-after-grad (whatever else happened that night that we don’t want to know about), a breakfast, the pre-commencement party, the after-commencement dinner, the after-commencement party that she was too tired to attend, grad kidnapping, grad kidnapping breakfast (shoutout to SMcD for hosting even though her kid was NOT IN TOWN), the last day of school grad sleepout, the actual end of school party, the Canada Day pre-party and then the after party, the July 2nd party (fatefully held at my house-shoutout to my neighbour that called the cops and ended it), the last minute trip to the Pemby festival despite deciding against it…. Sympathy shoutout to all the parents with kids in Grade 12 who are going through this for the first time. You’ll be good by this time next year. And it’ll all be a fuzzy memory. Even fuzzier for the grads. #justsayin’

I remember my graduation summer (1985) and how much we all wanted to do things together—many things, all the time—because THIS WAS IT. High school was over. And we would never see our people again. The was a poignancy to every event as we’d never be together, as a high school class again. Of course we were though. That fall to be exact. People didn’t really go away to school back in the day and I saw ‘my people’ fairly often, except for Ari who ran away to film school in LA and didn’t return for ten years. However we faithfully documented a plethora of ‘last’ events that grad year and summer. And I have a collection of somewhat blurry photographs that do indeed document our Grade 12 year. Those halcyon days…before (sort of) real life.

I totally saw the same thing happening with Karis and her people…that phase where they’re clinging to the ending of one thing because they’re not quite sure they’re ready for the beginning of the next. And it’s different for them as most of them ARE going away to school. Which is terrifying but in reality, university is a bit of a bridge…a kinder, gentler (though ridiculously expensive these days) way to prolong real life. I’d still be at uni if I could possibly justify it financially. Or chronologically, in that I am actually supposed to be an adult and one does have to step up to real life one of these days.

*short lecture* A word of advice though from my very own experience…go to class. Take notes. Do the work even though the professors don’t know your name (and likely wont) and there is literally 300 other people in the class. I remember being very surprised when mid-terms suddenly ‘happened’ as I didn’t really feel I’d gone to class much or really learned anything. These teachers don’t know you, they don’t know that you’re a great kid, that you volunteer, that you do great work that is sometimes a bit late, that your siblings were geniuses and that you’re an amazing athlete. Do the work and don’t get behind. *lecture over*

Anyway, I digress. Back to the poignancy of the grad summer and how it was for ME. Because this blog is about ME and MY adventures raising a teenage daughter (and a Golden Retriever-he’s easier than the teenager just in case you were wondering). So I made an album for Karis’s grad as I wanted to document her journey in a concrete way (as opposed to the digital media of her generation), which seemed like a fun little project at the time. A couple of pages of photos for each year of her life a little blurb noting the highlights of that year. Of course, I underestimated the time. Oh the time. First there were actual photos for the first five years that needed to be scanned as they were taken before I got a digital camera. The remaining years encompassed hundreds, possibly thousands of photos that needed to be reviewed and the most ‘significant’ and ‘meaningful’ ones selected. All these photos needed to be ordered and separated into years. Then, I started doing the writing part. The first few years were easy as I had baby books. But then it got dicey as real life crept in and I forgot to record significant events and milestones. Through a serious and calculated audit of my photos, greeting cards, journals, school records, bills, certificates and daytimers I managed to cobble together enough information for each year. Then came the online creation of the album. The placement of the photos. How many for each page? What order? The fact that there needs to be the same number for each year…madness.

I should NEVER attempt things like this because I cannot control myself and make a book with a few photos and some fun memories. No. It has to be an encyclopedic reference with consistency in both photo number and subject, as well as text and ‘talking points.’ I didn’t keep track of the hours because it would be terrifying and I’m supposed to be looking for contract work and doing the taxes and vacuuming the dog. This folks is a classic example of the ‘hyperfocus’ you experience if you have ADHD and no amount of medication will take that away from me. I like to think of it as an unexplored gift that needs a little harnessing and direction.

grad-album

Anyway, I finally finished it. Sadly you cannot see it because the file is far too large and it cannot be downloaded or uploaded or accessed from anywhere. Though here it is just in case you want to try.

Fast forward. It’s now October and grad seems like a lifetime ago. My obsession with this album precluded the publication of the adulting book I mentioned in a previous post. Though I did write it. Frantically, every night while I was in New York in August after Karis went home to the model apartment by 10pm. Procrastination is also a symptom of ADHD in case you’re keeping track. I brought all my notes because, of course, the book was almost written, just not online in any sort of publishing program. So I hand-wrote the adulting book. The whole thing. I think this was as much to help her as to help calm the incessant voice inside me listing all the things I have not yet told her. I was channeling all those monks that copied out books by hand before Gutenberg got it together with the printing press. I think their work may have been a tad more formal and less manic than mine though. It was a good visual though that kept me going whilst I laboured on the 15th floor of the Lexington Hotel.

The book is divided into sections with stick-on page dividers and employs the use of highlighters, coloured pencils and mind maps. The contents are somewhat tailored to Karis and her life as a model living in a model apartment but some chapters would be applicable to anyone. Here’s a very brief outline…but of course I can’t really remember all the stuff I wrote. I’m thinking of publishing it when she brings it home at Christmas…though I’m sure I’ll re-read it and think it’s terrible.

  • Finance: ATM secrets, online banking, the mysteries of foreign exchange and the difference between a charge card and a credit card.
  • Travel: don’t lose US visa, email important docs to yourself, take Redoxin before you go and wipe down your seat and tray table with disinfectant wipes.
  • Health & Wellness: sleep, drink green tea & water with lemon, wash your hands,use oil of oregano & sunscreen, get exercise and fresh air daily.
  • Nutrition: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” Eat mainly vegetables, one raw with each meal, limit sugar but have treats, 80% compliance.
  • Recipes and food ideas: hummus, fish, salad with a protein, soups without cream, eggs, coconut oil, sushi, cottage cheese with fruit or vegetables, tuna.
  • Etiquette: remember names, say thank you, acknowledge help and kindness, apologize sincerely, listen respectfully.
  • Cleaning (communal living): clean up after yourself in the kitchen and bathroom, hang towels and clothes, rinse spit out of sink, flush toilet and take out the garbage.
  • Relationships: avoid gossip, keep your word, cheer others’ success, be kind, talk about ideas not people, speak words that are only kind or helpful.
  • Laundry: follow directions on tags, separate colours, use cold water with appropriate detergent, beware of bleach, if in doubt, ask Mimi.
  • Shopping:
    • FOOD: don’t overbuy as you travel often, avoid processed food (expensive and unhealthy), think of a meal before you shop.
    • TOILETRIES: try Saks off 5th or Marshall’s first as they have great stuff at affordable prices.
    • CLOTHING: see above…don’t overbuy as you have to carry everything everywhere you go, buy quality and make sure it hangs well.
  • Beauty: take off your makeup every night, moisturize, use sunscreen.
  • Time Management: find a tool that works, make time for big items, prioritize daily goals, schedule important items, review tasks weekly to make sure you’re on track.
  • Business: understand how different markets work, keep track of charges and expenses, get statements from each agency.
  • Exercise: find exercises you enjoy, commit to a daily activity, work on core stability regularly, stretch and do yoga.
  • Model Bag: cover-up, band-aids, insoles, allergy pills, snacks and protein bars, Kleenex, tampons, scarf, book, sketchpad, charger plus all the other stuff.
  • Various other chapters that I can’t remember but possibly (in no particular order): Religion, Pets, Vitamins, Interpersonal Relationships, Safety, Transit, What to do if you are sick…..

Stay tuned 😉

Any Mum Will Do: Communal Child Rearing

A great subtitle for this post would be Any Mum Will Do: And Don’t Think You’re Going to Get Away With Anything Ever Again Because One of Us Will See You. Maybe Not Today, Maybe Not Tomorrow, But Someday. And You Will Be Found Out. Welcome to the Tribe. Communal Child Raising 101.

My first tribe actually started when I found three kindred spirits at Chelsea House Preschool who did NOT talk about how smart their kids were, how early they walked, what their Apgar score was and what percentile they were in (for anything). The four of us have remained friends ever since and try to get together 2-3 times a year. We go for sushi at Zen at 7pm and sit in the little room until there’s no one left in the restaurant and we feel guilty and leave. Same restaurant. Same time. We’ve been through a lot collectively: three private schools (two co-ed, one boys only); French Immersion, public school, home-schooling, illness, jobs, going back to school, death, family stuff and a whole lot more. And to perfectly cap off the end of an era, Karis has seen all her preschool buddies recently—two at the Collingwood prom and one through a mutual friend. Everyone is all grown up now. How. Did. This. Happen.

Communal Child Rearing truly started in earnest in the early days at Mulgrave. When the kids started kindergarten the tribe started to form. We had the ‘new mums coffee events’ and of course we all went so our children would be socially accepted and make friends and that we would be part of the tribe. Shades of the Upper East Side (see previous blog post). Actually it wasn’t nearly such a tough crowd and I can happily say that I still count these ladies as my nearest and dearest. At first, we were a pretty big group, but over time it settled out to a more reasonable number with the occasional new member (with particular success from our UK ladies). Though there was that one mum though who would never join us because she was at the school to ‘ensure her children got a good education not make friends with the other parents.’ We took particular pleasure in inviting her to everything we did for years, just to hear her say that. And no, she wasn’t that busy..yep, she had a big family, but she had staff. She was a misplaced Park Avenue-type for sure. She probably thought we were all boozy slackers. Not that that is a bad thing. Or necessarily true…it all depends on your perception.

The kids in our tribe learned how to get along with each other when they realized they had little choice in belonging to this group which became known as the ‘Friend Family’ (thanks Jordan) to distinguish it from the lesser significance and proximity of a mere family friend. We saw each other almost every day. Being in the ‘Friend Family’ meant that you were party to various events whether you liked it or not. Camping trips. Pool parties. Festivals. Birthday parties. Beach outings. Friday afternoons with the mums. It meant that you had a whole bunch of other mothers that you likely didn’t want some of the time because it was impossible to get away with much of anything. If your mum didn’t catch you or find out about a specific transgression, one of us would and it was only a matter of time. On the other hand, there was always a sympathetic ear when your mum didn’t understand you or you needed a different perspective on life. The benefit of having a whole bunch of other mothers is that if you put us all together we were pretty much the prototype for a perfect mum 😉

Truthfully though, we operated well as a tribe and I like to think the kids had optimal care as we all worked to our strengths. We had driving mums. Cooking mums. Snack mums. Shopping mums. Dance mums. Fun mums. Cool mums. Music mums. Exercise mums. Sporty mums. Make-up mums. Stylish mums. Strict mums. Academic mums. Practical mums. Organizing mums. Advice-giving mums. Swimming mums. Trampoline mums. And I add those last two like they’re just as useful because that was me–the swimming and trampoline mum because I was happy to play in the pool and jump on the trampoline for hours. Which sounds useless but let me just give you a practical example. During one of our Mulgrave camping trips, we had left the campground at Bear Creek to recover at Manteo (a lovely resort in Kelowna) for a few days. That particular year, I went with two other mums and their kids. No dads. We renamed our family as the Dixon-Dawson-Beck family and we shared a condo at the resort. Now there are things that must be done, even on holiday, like food shopping (yuck), cooking (double yuk) and laundry; however, these things go much faster when the children are safely occupied elsewhere. Like with me in the pool. It’s much more efficient and I actually enjoyed hanging with the kids. Still do. So between all the pools and all the trampolines and all the late night chats, I’ve had some great times with those kids.

Our tribe had a few truly golden years together. The stock market was good. Most of us didn’t work or did so on our own time. The kids did a lot of the same activities so car-pooling was easy. We had yearly Vegas trips. We went camping together. Stayed at friend’s cabins. We went out for lunch to the Cactus Club twice weekly and out for dinner at least once weekly. We attended concerts, galas and charity events. We celebrated any and all birthdays. Everyone got gifts. Copious amounts of champagne was had by all. It was truly the best of times and I am eternally grateful that we were all able to share such an amazing era.

Of course, time marches on and things change. Kids move schools and grow up. Marriages end. People get jobs. We’ve been through divorce, death, illness and the many assorted and sundry heartaches that go hand-in-hand with raising children and teenagers. However, our tribe is strong. We still celebrate. Marriage. Jobs. Graduation. Pretty much anything. We visit. Hang out. Commiserate. We don’t get to see the kids that often as they have lives and can drive. Basically it’s easier for them to get away from us. Though no matter how old they get I still have huge space in my heart for my beautiful kids of the Friend Family. You know who you are. xox

Motherhood Report: Child R.O.I.

So I’m back at it again. I’ve had so much to write and so little time, mostly because I am
constantly ‘busy’ doing ‘stuff’ like cleaning or looking for work or driving the child instead of writing. Not that I expect to earn money from a blog, but it’s a great writing exercise and, as all pros know, doing anything well requires discipline and consistency. So I’m attempting a bit of both here. I’ve got lots to say, it’s just a matter of saying it.

51ICZEpR0oL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

An insider’s look at a very different life.

On the topic of mothering and being a mother, I read a fascinating novel/memoir/anthropological field study called ‘Primates of Park Avenue‘ by Wednesday Martin. The book is about that very particular group of New York mothers that inhabit the Upper East Side (UES), which is truly a very different world in terms of wealth, status, privilege, expectations and lifestyle. I have not been there myself, nor do I know anyone who lives there but I read a lot and am familiar with some of the social and societal peculiarities of these very wealthy families.
(On a side note, I also read a book about another group of the financial elite called ‘Crazy Rich Asians‘ by Kevin Kwan which is not about crazy Asians but about crazy rich Asians and is a fascinating look at reclusive and moneyed Singaporean families but not particularly about kids.)

Back to the Park Avenue stories. The anthropological commentary is an interesting adjunct to the story because it tells how we, as humans, have completely changed focus in our idea of ‘family’ in a number of ways.

CEO, Motherhood INC. or Killin’ it on Park Avenue

One of the first observations the author makes is that these mothers, who are themselves highly educated at elite universities and have held prestigious jobs—think hedge fund managers and lawyers—dedicate their entire being to raising successful children as stay-at-home mums. Their motivation is to ensure that their children get into the right preschool, leading to the right private school, then a top university (preferably Ivy League)  and that they are taking the right classes and cultivating the right hobbies whilst attending the right events with the right people and so on, until they are married off to a person of similar wealth and status thereby ensuring the survival of the lineage.

According to the author, who reports without judgement or malice even though she’s an outsider at first, the UES mothers are very adept and ruthless in managing every aspect of their offspring’s lives from toddler music appreciation and Mandarin lessons to organizing playdates with the right people. Mothers’ entire lives revolve around the success of their children and every dress they buy, event they attend, summer house they rent is done with an eye to providing the right environment for their offspring to thrive and succeed. Mothers are congratulated on the child’s achievements and blamed for their failures which is, I suppose, pretty much the case in most first world countries, but apparently it’s magnified to the Nth degree on the Upper East Side. This is helicopter parenting at its finest or most horrendous depending on how you look at it.

Assets: 9 Children, 3 Cows, 3 Pigs, 8 Sheep

The author also notes that historically, large families were seen as a type of wealth. Children were loved but were also currency for success. When children were raised communally, they were valued as future hunters/warriors and gatherers/nurturers necessary to ensure the survival of the tribe. Even when we evolved into nuclear family units, young children were responsible for basic chores, helping around the house and caring for the younger children.  A child’s net cost was food and clothing as there were no ballet classes or hockey practices, but the potential payoff was significant in terms of building the family wealth and/or status: Sons could work the land or work in the family business. Daughters could make advantageous marriages to expand and solidify land holdings or business success.

This is SO not the case now. Children are not ‘useful’ in modern civilization and represent a financial liability to their parents so large families (4+ kids) are pretty rare. Of course we view our children as assets in sentimental and emotional terms; however, they would correctly be labelled as liabilities, as an asset, by definition, produces income or has financial value. The expense of raising a child—in hard costs for food, clothing, education, lessons etc. and loss of potential income from a parent—is significant. Obviously, very few Park Avenue families would experience financial limitations, but are constrained by the time commitments necessary to produce a ‘successful’ child; even with a nanny, housekeeper and a driver, it is unlikely that even the most organized and dedicated UES mother could efficiently manage more than four children.

Child Status: The Light of My Life (AKA Centre-of-the-Universe)

The place and status of a child in the family has changed dramatically and is now based on sentiment rather than utility. We have evolved to the point where children are born and become the focus of the family with a significant portion of the family resources are devoted to their care. This was never the case historically as children were not overly useful for the first few years.

As a personal note about the ‘centre-of-the-universe’ idea of children in families, the only book (and I read them ALL) that helped me when Karis was an infant and would not sleep more than 2 hours during the night, believed that the baby should be welcomed as a new member of the tribe but certainly not the focus. The author advocated putting the baby on a schedule starting at 6am and waking her up every 90 minutes to feed with structured naptime based on the baby’s age and weight because YOU are the parents and YOU need to guide this helpless infant and help her learn to manage life on the planet (AKA parent-directed feeding). So anyway, I followed the schedule and the child slept through the night on the first day. Of course I didn’t sleep that first night because I kept checking on her, but she slept through the night from that day forwards. Coincidence? I don’t know. Anyway, I later found out the book was by a pseudo-Christian religious cult and has mixed reviews so I don’t tend to recommend it 😉

My Tribe: It Takes a Village

One final idea the author touches on is the idea of communal childcare. I won’t give away the ending of the novel, but suffice to say that the author does connect with the UES tribe and they rally round her in her time of need. I think we need more of that in our lives. Karis attended private school from K-5 and that’s where I met the ladies of my tribe. We spent a great deal of time together when the kids were young and, as a result, the kids did too. They weren’t all particular friends but they managed to get along together with a minimum of fuss as it was simply the way it was. They knew that they could be picked up by any number of mothers who would arrive with a snack and the necessary gear for ballet or soccer as the case may be. They knew that ‘any mum would do’ and became comfortable with all the mums in the tribe. Best of all, they knew that even if their mum didn’t know about or see a particular transgression, some mum did. And it was only a matter of time before you were found out. Any mum will do…stay tuned for Part 2.