Motherhood

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.

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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.