A Scare: A Mother’s Worse Nightmare

It was a sunny day and the children were playing on the beach. A four year old in an aquamarine tutu played in the sand. My daughter played with this girl’s older sister. I watched the kids lazily with half shut lids. It was calm and quiet, a perfect day. Suddenly there was a commotion. The child in the tutu was missing. It happened so fast. One minute she was there, the next, she was gone. The mother walked along the beach and screamed hysterically, “Where is she?”

“We’ll find her,” I said with a surety I didn’t feel. I had been in this woman’s shoes a year ago when we lost our son at Disney World. I understood the panic, the heart wrenching fear that nothing will be the same, the horrid thoughts of a mother’s worse nightmare. I ran to get help and asked everyone along the way, “Have you seen a four year old Caucasian in an aquamarine tutu?” My brother-in-law and my daughter who is a lifeguard (thank you City of Mississauga) dived into the water and searched. My husband scanned the water as he walked along the beach. Time seemed to pass slowly. Many people helped. Others stood around, shook their heads dumbly and didn’t move. I wondered about this lack of compassion. Why didn’t everyone spring into action? Perhaps they didn’t care or they had never experienced what we had, to know that time was of the essence.

Luckily the child had only wandered down the beach and realized she was lost. She told a stranger who held her hand and looked for her mother. When her mother saw her, before she could wrap her in her arms, she collapsed on the sand bawling. It ended well but as with all of life’s moments, it left its indelible mark. We watched our children more closely. We hugged them a bit tighter. We talked about what ifs and I was more grateful for life than I’ve ever been.

In Better Spirits

A few months ago, my mom and stepdad came to Canada to visit us. They fit into our harried routine, cooking, cleaning and looking after the kids. One night when I had to take my daughter to dance, my stepdad offered to come for the drive. “Are you sure?” I asked. “It’s kind of boring. I wait one hour in the car listening to music, writing or sleeping.”

“I’ll come,” he said.

The dance class is in a small plaza with an Irish pub. We laughed as we drove past the pub, saying that we should be sitting in there. “Why don’t we?” I said. So we did. We sat in a small Irish pub, drank a beer and got to know each other again, the way we used to when I lived in Jamaica and we had all the time in the world to sit on his balcony overlooking the sea and chat. The time flew by and the hour passed in what seemed like minutes. Now, every time I take my daughter to dance, I miss my stepdad. It reminds me of family and good times and how we need to break away from our routine and do something different and fun. The Irish pub is a lot more entertaining than waiting in the car, especially with winter coming. So here I am waiting for my daughter to finish dance again. It’s after eight. This time, I’m not waiting in the car. I’m sitting in the same Irish pub listening to the laughter of the bartender, the hockey game on TV and the few patrons sitting at the bar. I’ve got my glass of red wine. I feel like a real writer. I don’t know what a real writer feels like but in my romanticized version of reality, Hemingway wasn’t rushing kids across town, making lunches, crawling into bed at ten, eleven or twelve feeling like he’d been run over by a truck and then getting up at the crack of dawn to rush to work (well, not really the crack of dawn but far too early for me). Back to the Irish pub, soft country music is playing and a stranger has introduced himself as he leaves the pub saying he hopes he’ll see me again. An elderly man with an accent from somewhere in the British Isles says, “Girl, you type faster than I think.” And they say Northerners are cold and unfriendly! The bar is cosy and for just an hour I imagine that I’m travelling the world again, sitting in Australia or New Zealand, or somewhere exciting, and I don’t feel rushed or harried. The hour is flying by and I’m in much better spirits. This is so much nicer than waiting in the car.

Encourage Children

Have you ever felt that you were born into a family that was completely different from yourself? That’s because because apparently talents and genes sometimes skip generations so that an actor may be born into a family of scientists or an artist is born into a family of academics. That’s why when my son said he wanted to play baseball, my first instinct was to frown and say, “why?” I’d enrolled him into soccer because his father and grandfather played soccer. He didn’t like it much. I enrolled him into swimming because that’s a life skill and I thought he’d want to swim competitively since his grandfather and many of his granduncles were swimmers. He’s good but he doesn’t like it so much. I didn’t know why he wanted to play a game that we’d never introduced him to and one that I considered boring. I used to pass by the baseball diamonds in the summer seeing them filled with parents sitting and watching the games for hours. “I’m sure glad I’m not one of those parents sitting there wasting my time,” I’d say to myself as I drove by. But as good parents should, my husband and I bought our son a bat and ball. My next door neighbour, Cyril, an avid Yankees fan, since passed on, came over and showed him how to hold the bat. The ball went sailing over the fence. “Did you see how he clocked that ball?” Cyril shouted. “He’s got a good swing.” I didn’t think too much of it but my son kept telling me, “I want to play baseball.” Finally we signed him up.
That was two years ago. Now he’s going to be playing on the rep team for the Mississauga Majors and I’m one of those parents sitting down watching the game for hours. It’s far from boring. I love it and the coach has even taught me how to take score. Baseball has taught us valuable lessons like being more patient and everyone has bad days where you don’t hit the ball. I’ve met people I otherwise would never have met and learned that the most important job of a parent is to encourage a child, no matter what we might want for them. In my new children’s book Essie Wants an Education, Essie’s parents don’t think school is important to a squirrel but eventually they let her attend. They learn something crucial from her that they would otherwise never have known which changes the way squirrels behave forever after.

Fighting for the Underdog: Why I Wrote ‘Essie Wants an Education’

Story ideas come from everywhere. Mine are no exception. I    was listening to the CBC one afternoon and heard a program on the Romas (Gypsies) of an Eastern European country. I wish I remembered which country but I do remember that Roma children who were eager to attend school and get an education were treated unfairly. They were not allowed to take the academic classes, were assessed differently due to the prejudices of teachers and faced discrimination within the school system. One principal wanted to put a stop to that but even he came upon resistance as parents pulled their children from that school to avoid mixing with the Roma children. They were afraid their own children might get diseases. This is an all too familiar tale to anyone who followed the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s where Caucasian Americans wanted to segregate their children from African Americans. Seeing the footage of that brave girl who wanted to go to the newly de-segregated school in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas, makes me cringe with embarrassment. Imagine that we humans do this to each other! I also remember hearing a story of long ago where a white teacher who taught black kids said he was surprised that they were as bright and willing to learn as white kids. It made him realize that black kids were not unintelligent and slow to learn as he’d previously thought. On a much lighter note, I then saw a squirrel staring into the classroom at my child’s elementary school in Mississauga, Ontario. Maybe it’s my vivid imagination but I’m sure I saw a wistful look in that squirrel’s eyes as it cocked its head to the side as if trying to listen to the teacher. So there’s the story. A squirrel wants an education. The parents (humans) think that a squirrel has no place in school. How can a squirrel want or need an education? Surely they are not smart enough. This book is kid friendly and funny but the message is clear. We may not look alike or be alike but everyone deserves an education.

Blogging and Social Media vs Writing a Book

Want people to know about your book? Get on Social Media

I went to a workshop on blogging today. I thought it was going to be about how to blog without embarrassing myself. Apparently not. It was about the importance of social media and blogging as a marketing too. It was about using social media to get oneself out there and advertising one’s books. I’m still old school. I wish the advertising of books was left solely to the publisher but this is not the case. One of my about-to-be-published writer friends said his publisher recommended he start a blog about his book. He was stymied, wondering how to start. Another about-to-be-published writer friend said he retired early to avoid the new technology coming into his workplace. He’s in his sixties and feels that doing what was recommended by the presenter, is a full time job and a job he wanted to avoid in the first place. He wants to write, not be on social media.

I have a hard enough time finishing my book without the extra work of social media. It still feels alien to me. I remember when cell phones first came out and people walked around with them talking loudly about work, feeling important, rich and cool. I thought even back then, “You’re a modern day slave. Your boss always knows where you are and what you are doing. He/she can always contact you. Creepy!” And now, it’s totally normal to advertise our every whereabout, private or otherwise. There’s still a part of me that rebels against this, that craves the privacy of being totally unreachable. (Until my friend, let’s call her Katrina, told me, “You have to have your phone on you and on all the time. You’re the emergency contact for my child. What use is it if you don’t charge it? Carry it? Know where to find it?)

But back to social media. It feels like I’m putting myself in the spotlight, bragging even. This comes so naturally to some and as loud as I am at work where I know my colleagues well and feel comfortable, it feels strange and awkward for me to be tweeting about books, putting images on Pinterest, blogging twice a week at least (or so I was told). The presenter, my new editor, was asked if she slept. “No,” she replied.

I, on the other hand, happen to love sleeping. And what about good old fashioned TV watching? Will there be any time to do anything else? What about the time to write my book? The presenter gave me my answer. Get used to social media because it works and it isn’t going anywhere. It’s how books and authors get recognized. So I’m going to be blogging once a week. But please don’t hold me to that. I can’t promise anything.

 

I’m A Lot Happier

I’m a lot happier these days and nothing has changed. I still live in the same small house, have the same job, get annoyed at the same things and have the same old irritating habits like my penchant for misplacing anything important: passports, taxes, work papers, keys and my glasses. I’m a lot happier because each day I wake up (I still groan as I pry myself from under the sheets) feels like a gift. It started when my friend died of cancer at 49 leaving her children and her life behind. I got to know her well only at the end having known her not so well for over ten years. When I helped clear out her condo, it felt, as another friend so aptly said, someone pressed the stop button on her life, while she was in mid-sentence. It wasn’t like clearing out an elderly person’s house. I felt her presence so acutely as if she was going to walk in and continue her life, as if she would just pick up where she left off. It felt unfinished: her work papers, newly bought groceries, freshly painted children’s room.

I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t know someone who has died of cancer and unfortunately, the longer we live, the more likely we are to know more and more people who pass this way. I don’t know what my end will be and perhaps it’s morbid to think about, but thinking about it and realizing it could happen any day makes me really want to enjoy every day. It has made me hug a lot more, give more compliments and be grateful that I’ve woken up yet again, something I’ve always taken for granted. Better yet, it’s made me do some things that I’ve put off like writing a will, telling people how they’ve made a difference in my life, and working harder on my new book. Sure the other side may be way better, free of pain and sorrow and all the hard stuff that’s on this side. But I really like this side. It’s what I know and at times, it’s a lot of fun so I want to stay here for awhile, for as long as I can. That’s why tomorrow morning when I, night owl and sleep lover, get up far too early and start that tedious morning routine, I’m going to be very happy, because once again, I’ve woken up to a new day.

One of the best things I’ve ever done

I wanted to surprise my first born with a gift before she went off to university so I bought a blank journal at Walmart and started writing to her a year before she had to go. I figured a year would give me plenty of time to complete it. Sometimes I didn’t know what to write. Other times I had plenty to say. When we didn’t see eye to eye, I wrote about it, giving her my opinion. At times I wrote about my frustrations with life but most times I wrote about how proud I was of her. I wrote about my regrets of the past and my aspirations for the future. I bared my soul.

I didn’t finish the journal even though I tried to write almost every day. Handwriting takes a lot longer than typing but in this age of emails and texts, I wanted to go back to handwriting and I learned something about myself in the process. I had to think more to avoid making mistakes that couldn’t be deleted. I learned that actual handwriting gives me great joy, much more than typing on a keyboard. I learned that I write more honestly and more creatively when I put pen to paper. I don’t know why this is. I’ve read it’s because we process and synthesize information differently when we write than when we type. I just know that handwriting felt more authentic and enjoyable than if I’d done an online diary. Journalling made me remember how much I enjoyed this pastime of mine and how reading back through the pages of a journal brings back memories in great detail. Facebook posts are the opposite of authentic. Let’s face it. Everyone mostly posts the good stuff.

As for my daughter, she says she reads a little bit of my journal every day and it’s interesting to read my perspective on things. She says it makes her cry sometimes. She says she feels closer to me and she’s glad she has it. And the unfinished pages? Well, she says she’s going to write in them. I hope she shares her writing with me one day.

My First Child is About to Leave the Nest

The countdown is on. My eldest daughter leaves home for university in 37 days. I’m supposed to feel excited and proud. I am, but she’s my right hand, the organizer, the calm, logical antidote to my constant chaos. I can’t imagine every day life without her presence.

The separation from us, the family unit, started awhile ago, two years to be exact, when she wanted to go out all the time, choosing friends over family. I know this is a normal part of growing up and I remember my teenage years when the most important thing on my mind was the next party. Yet it feels like time is the wind sweeping me along. I can barely keep up, the years flying by so fast that I want to shout, ‘stop a minute. Let me catch my breath.’ The mirror shows me grey hairs and a few lines and I think in cliches. Just yesterday my daughter was born, eyes wide open taking in her new world. Just yesterday I was young, teaching her to ride a bike, watching her in swim class. We came to Canada just yesterday. She was five and she looked around on the way from the airport and said, “this country has no colour.”

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The Abyss of Imbecility

My student, when praising her son’s classmate’s artwork, said it was superb. Her grade three son said, “Don’t use that word. No one will understand. Just say nice, cool, or awesome.” She thought superb was an English word so she came to me to double check. Naturally I was horrified. The English language is so rich in vocabulary that to be left with only nice, cool or awesome is horrific. I know languages lose words and introduce new ones all the time but some of the words we are introducing, like lol and omg are hardly words at all. Then there are phrases like “dumbing down”, which means we are making ourselves less intelligent, stripping away any complexity so that the masses can understand. This process, now taking place in all arenas of society like language, music and entertainment, will simply ensure our rapid descent into the abyss of imbecility. We’ve become so informal, replacing our rich vocabulary with phrasal verbs and text language that it is no surprise that we are losing valuable words, knowledge and culture.

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Tenacity and perseverance – Lessons I learned from my 14 year old

IMG-20130720-00569My fourteen year old daughter bought herself a Mac laptop today. She saved for two years for it and she paid in cash. It wasn’t easy. During those two years she wondered if she should get a cheaper computer. She wanted clothes but she held out for the big prize. There were many times she could have given up. The look on her face as she handed over the hundred dollar bills was pride and when the staff congratulated her saying, “two years is a long time!”, her expression was sheer joy. I know she will care this computer and treasure it. After all, she knows the work she put in to get it: she babysat and saved almost every penny. It shows tenacity and perseverance.

     “How do you feel?” I asked her.

     “Great,” she said grinning. It made me think of all the times I have purchased things I wanted but I didn’t feel great. In fact, I felt burdened. Why? I put them on a credit card or financed them. Perhaps I did feel great with my purchase for about an hour, maybe a day the most. Then I felt worried about paying the bill before the interest got too high. I didn’t feel great at all, nor did I feel pride and joy. The reason is I didn’t earn those things.  I wanted to have them now.

     It’s one of the absurdities of our culture: we don’t earn what we have but we feel it’s okay to incur debt just to have the newest or the best of whatever is out there. We give in to this immaturity like a two year screaming “Now! Now!” and tell ourselves it’s okay because we are establishing credit. What we are in fact doing is becoming a slave to the banks and credit card companies and teaching our children that we are entitled  to have what we haven’t yet earned. It’s immature and stupid but we do it anyway because we think we’ll be happier because we get what we want. Tenacity and perseverance are qualities that have to be taught, nurtured and encouraged. We don’t acquire them when we get what we want immediately and all the time.

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Well, I want a new computer. Mine is old and the keys are stuck. Some aren’t even working. I’m a writer and I feel I should have it now. But today I learned a valuable lesson from my daughter. I’ll just have to get out the piggy bank and save for it. Hopefully I’ll have a new computer in a year. Maybe it will be sooner. Perhaps later. Tenacity and perseverance.