Thursday, April 30, 2009

Past Deadline: Today They Are Fat Pants

Can we say "body image issues"? Published in The Perth Courier on Tuesday, April 28/09.

Today they are fat pants

I go through this every year. It happens as winter turns to spring and I begin the painful process of unwrapping myself from layers of clothing, such as parkas and bulky sweatshirts and long pants.

Yes. Bathing suit season creeps towards us yet again. Oh joy.

It’s then that I discover my body has betrayed me. Okay, actually, I have done a pretty good job of betraying my body over the years.

At one point this winter I wasn’t doing too badly. I was eating somewhat reasonably and exercising sort of occasionally. I was feeling pretty good. I went to a meeting wearing a pair of slimming black pants and a colleague said, “Hey, Steph! Have you lost weight?”
Well, I hadn’t, but I’m not complaining.

Fast forward a couple of months. The eating hasn’t been so careful and the exercising has been, well, what’s that you say? The phone’s ringing?

Anyway, I throw on those same slimming black pants and I’m walking along with Groom-boy on our way somewhere and he says to me, “Are those pants supposed to be that short?"

Grrrr. “No,” I blurt, “but when you pile weight onto your hips then there’s only so much material to go around and the pants ride higher. Thanks for asking, though.”

Yes, the courtship is over I think. I shouldn’t complain. One time he told me I smelled like a theatre. Not just any old theatre, though, the National Arts Centre. I think it was supposed to be a compliment.

Anyway, maybe it’s the pants, not the body, that betray me.

My diva daughter (the one who had an enormous screaming public tantrum because she didn’t win a door prize the other night) takes dance lessons. They are at the old Perth Shoe Factory building. There’s also a gym there. I’ve never been inside. While she’s dancing, I plant myself in a comfy sofa at the Factory Grind coffee shop, have a cuppa and gab with other diva dancer moms. (Okay, their daughters may not be divas. I shouldn’t assume.) Some of the moms, though, actually leave the building and run. Using their feet. On the road. And you know what? Those moms look great. They look lean and healthy and, well, vibrant.

I am not a runner. Too much of me flops around in unpleasant ways when I run, and I have no stamina. Right now I’m working on being a walker and I’m revisiting the world of concussion-free cycling, so it’s a start.

Mostly, though, I am mad that I let things get this way. This is the girl, the tall girl, who was ready to throw a party in high school when she broke 100 pounds. Bathing suits used to hang off of me. I could eat anything I wanted. People lined up for miles just to point and call me a bone rack.

Then I got a job sitting at a desk. Then I had two babies and my body said, “You want to weigh how much? Like you used to? Hahahahaha. You’re funny, lady.” Let’s just say “svelte” was a lotta pounds ago.

The point of all of this is there is no point. I know the error of my ways. I know I can fix it if I really try hard and I know I’ll probably be less motivated than I want to be. Looking in the mirror while sporting a bathing suit used to be excellent motivation to get fit. Now I just start muttering to myself about healthy self-esteem and body image and Renaissance figures and blah blah blah. That’s the great thing about getting older – eventually you just don’t care what other people think.

I’m not there yet, though. I am, however, thinking it’s a bit silly to write a whole column about short pants and thunder thighs if one doesn’t want to draw attention to something unpleasant. (That’s code for: Please don’t stare at my short pants as I walk down the street.)

I guess that’s why it was a toss up this week between writing about my absolutely fabulous figure or my diva daughter and her thankfully waning penchant for public tantrums.

Monday, April 27, 2009

In an Instant

In the corner of the dining room are two bags of toys and clothes. They have been sitting there for over a month - the crowning achievement of a mad spree of sorting toy boxes and drawers.

My intent was to go through the bags and clean the toys and make sure all the parts that go together were together. Then I was going to give them to the mom of a little 15-month-old girl. We don't know the family very well, but they are nice people who my in-laws know.

I had gotten as far as sorting out the girl toys and clothes from the boy stuff, and I had put it all in a great big bag covered in happy faces. All that was left to do was wash the toys.

And then the sweet little girl died.

It was very sudden and unexpected and isn't my tragedy to tell, but it made me sad to wash those toys to give away to someone else. And today, when everyone in my household has been afflicted by sniffly colds and is working on interrupted sleep and fuses are short, I try to remember to be patient and to live in the moment because I am so very, very lucky. My heart breaks for that family.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Past Deadline: Start Saving the World

For Earth Day - published in The Perth Courier on Tuesday, April 21/09.

Start saving the world

I’ve had this feeling lately that I need to save the world. Does that ever happen to you? It’s a daunting task. There’s a lot to save. It makes my head spin a little.

For me saving the world tends to lean towards the environment because I think everything else is moot if we don’t deal with this. But what to do? It’s overwhelming. It’s kind of like (but not at all the same as) when you have a whole bunch of things you need to do – errands to run, jobs to finish, a house to clean, a pet to take to the vet, a kid to take somewhere, etc. – and you don’t really know where to start. Sometimes there is so much that I find myself sitting in a chair and staring blankly into space – completely immobilized by the sheer hectic-ness of it all.

The way I usually solve that little problem is to make a list. I love lists and I’m one of those people who includes several easily achievable tasks so I can actually feel as if I am getting somewhere. I’m likely to write “make a list” at the top of the page. Whatever works, right?

Saving the world, though – that’s a darned big job. I’m not even sure making a list will help. Still, it’s a place to start.

Another place to start is with the phrase “think globally, act locally.” For me, at this stage in my life and with my homebody tendencies, I’m not likely to immediately develop a new worldwide foundation and go globetrotting to promote its merits. Besides, globetrotting is a bit environmentally irresponsible. I’m more likely to start small. Whatever I do I will involve my kids so they become future stewards of the Earth.

That’s all fine and good, but it’s still not easy. I am, after all, a hypocrite.Consider that you are reading the column by the girl who used to rail frequently against the proliferation of those gas-guzzling, environmentally unfriendly SUVs, only to go out a few years ago and buy a van. As much as I like my van, I still feel guilty about driving it. For a while I considered getting a vanity plate that says “HPOCR8T.”

I’m not alone, though. Recent generations of folks have been part of a society consumed by consumption (and I don’t mean tuberculosis). It’s hard to change a habit – especially when people don’t fully understand the consequences of a continued pattern of seemingly innocuous behaviour.

I still think we need big-time leadership at least nationally, but ideally internationally, to get our collective acts together. It may be painful at first, but there needs to be substantive change in terms of the technologies driving our societal engines (i.e. enough with the fossil fuels already) and a major overhaul in the way we use energy and consume the planet’s resources. While we wait for world leaders to get their butts in collective gear, there are many small things we can be doing. Small, local stuff adds up.

So, yes, I drive a van and I still sometimes use plastic bags when I shop so I have a few garbage bags, but here’s my list (Yay! A list!) of things I can start to do or keep doing to act locally:

1. Keep composting and recycling.

2. Start trying even harder to purchase items that have reasonable amounts of packaging so I don’t have to dispose or recycle

3. Keep using the clothesline in the spring, summer and fall. (My mother-in-law does this in winter, too, but she is a very brave woman.)

4. Start using my bike more.

5. Start buying local even more often. (I don’t know about you, but I’m really beginning to appreciate knowing where my food comes from.)

6. Keep picking up garbage with the kids as we walk to and from school.

7. Start finding a way to eliminate plastic bags from our life completely.

8. Keep teaching kids (not just my own) about taking care of the Earth. Help them to understand what is going on and what we can do to make it better.
9. Keep looking for ways to reduce energy consumption.

It’s a start. Happy Earth Day.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Past Deadline: The "My Tummy Hurts" Alert

A reflection on the week that was...ugh. As published in The Perth Courier on Tuesday, April 14/09.

The “My tummy hurts” alert

When I was a kid, my parents were World-Renowned Experts on Everything (WREEs). Up until I became a cantankerous teenager, I cannot remember ever doubting the WREEs. I turned to them for advice, comfort and, well, everything. They seemed to know exactly what they were doing as parents and had obviously taken the course.

Since then I have become a parent and it has come to my attention there is no course. Despite the fact there are days when I could seriously use a degree in child psychology or general medicine, I am only armed with a wee bit of accumulated experience, a smidgen of common sense, instinct and a Bachelor of Journalism and English. That means I can write about my observations fairly well.

As helpful as good communication skills are, they are sorely inadequate when it comes to making certain judgment calls, particularly when a kid is sick.

This winter and early spring have featured a bunch of weird little illnesses that have one thing in common: they are hard to shake. Perhaps you have dealt with the sinus infection that makes you feel as if your face is going to rot off for several weeks? Or the cold with the three-month nagging cough? Or the flu that was nasty for several days with mild aftershocks lingering for a few weeks?

Fortunately our household has (touch wood!) only been afflicted by some of these things. Last week, though, Boychild was felled by what I will lovingly call The Ick. The Ick is a tricky devil that tests such parental skills as communication, instinct and trust. In other words, is he really sick or does he just want to avoid school?

One of the hardest things I have found about parenting is making the judgment call about going to school. In general, I stick to a couple of key strategies: 1) fevers, rashes and barfies are a free ticket to stay home and 2) the kid will stay home for 24 hours after running a fever.

One of the grey areas is “the sore tummy.”

Some youngsters I know complain about a sore tummy if they are worried about something. One time last fall I was caught in that trap while escorting Boychild to school. We were standing in a hallway crowded with kids, teachers and other parents when Boychild, who I knew was anxious about something, started to cry and loudly announced, “But Mom, my tummy hurts! I think I might throw up!”

The entire school fell silent and 3,457 pairs of very wide eyes turned to me. “Get your barfy child out of here!” they silently implored.

You see, “My tummy hurts” or “I feel like I’m going to throw up” appear to be worldwide code for “Send this kid home,” and rightly so. On that day, the kid and I beat a hasty retreat, but after he got home, had a snack and started running around and bugging his sister, he was unceremoniously returned to the school for the remainder of the day – without incident. It was clearly a false alarm.

That’s why last week was so darned frustrating. The Ick appears to be one of those lingering bugs. The “sore tummy” code was activated at school last Monday, so Boychild came home. Just when we skeptical parents began to suspect we had been duped, a fever popped up. Then the fever went away, the sore tummy persisted and a headache joined the fray. Then everything left except the sore tummy, and doubt began to creep back. Still, our instincts told us to keep him home.

Any doubt was dispelled at the end of the long week when the sore tummy FINALLY made its concerns a little more tangible – in the middle of the night, of course. Yay.

I guess all of this is a long-winded, kinda gross way of affirming the usefulness of parental instincts, and also to congratulate my own parents. I now know there were plenty of times when they had no idea what they were doing, but they pulled it off. Hopefully Groom-boy and I can, too.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Past Deadline: When's The Flood Coming?

From fashion diva headquarters...published in The Perth Courier on Tuesday, April 7/09.

When’s the flood coming?

Have I talked about kids and clothes before? Forgive me if I have – half a million words is a lot to keep track of.
Anyway, kids are weird.

I know this boy, and I wouldn’t dare to name names because that would just be so uncool, but he doesn’t like to wear anything new. Now, I’ve heard of remaining faithful to a favourite pair of sneakers, jeans or a sweatshirt. I mean, I have some old favourites that are like heirlooms, but that doesn’t usually mean forsaking all other garments.

So let’s say this kid is going to school with old jeans that have holes in the knees and that are an inch or two away from being called Capri pants. What do you do? Well, you buy some new pants, right? In fact, knowing how much some folks like things to be just so, you go so far as to buy the exact same kind of pants – just a size bigger so no one will ask, “When’s the flood coming?”

Sounds reasonable, don’t you think?

Well, those pants will not do. Nor will any of the other bigger pants of various styles, even the ones that are brand new but are made to look seasoned. (I must be getting old because I find that whole concept to be annoying – pay more for something new that looks half wrecked.) Anyway, this is just to say I don’t get it. It’s not like this kid is being forced to wear velour leisure suits or anything.

I suppose, in a way, I can relate to the clothes dilemma. This is the part I may have talked about before, so I’ll try to be brief.

You may be shocked by this news if you’ve ever seen me live and in person, but I’ve never been called a Fashion Diva, nor do I ever expect to achieve this distinction. That said, I’ve got enough on the ball to know that some trends eventually should be left to die.

Let’s take 1970s fashion, for example. As we moved from bell bottoms and frizzy hair into, well, the almost equally hideous 1980s, I knew enough in Grade 5 that the plaid pants mom made me wear to school were enough to single me out in a way that wasn’t all that appealing. I mean, it’s one thing to be held up as The Shining Example of Extraordinary Fashion for 10-Year-Olds, but quite another to have the tough kid in the class point and laugh and sarcastically say “Nice pants!” while you’re standing in front of a whole buncha classmates.

Good times.

The day that happened confirmed for me that it was time to emerge from the world of “slacks” and enter the exciting new frontier of blue jeans. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I can actually remember my very first blue jeans. We drove to Lanark to get them at Drysdale’s store. I don’t know why we didn’t get them in Perth – maybe Perth only had slacks.

Anyway, I picked out a pair of GWG Scrubbies which, I learned fairly quickly, had already been left behind in the fickle world of fashion. By the time I got my hands on them, Scrubbies were already yesterday’s jeans. Still, they were enough to keep me well beneath the radar. Except for the crazy curly hair, boatload of freckles and teeth that were too big for my face, I looked, more or less, normal.

All that said, I can understand a child’s reluctance to sway from clothes that have been working for him to something new that, for whatever odd reason, may be found “unacceptable” in some way. Because I know how unsettling this situation can be, I would find myself in support of school uniforms if the circumstance arose. (While I’m at it, I still maintain people should attain a psychology degree before having children.)

For now, though, relying on “spin” is key. It’s time to work on explaining the subtle difference between “no one notices when your pants look normal” and “everyone notices when your pants are too short.” And believe me, being the proud owner of mile-long legs I know from “floods.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Past Deadline: Cats - You Do the Math

What? I've written 700 columns in my day? Get. Out. And here is #700 in the Tuesday, March 31/09 issue of The Perth Courier.

Cats: You do the math

This is my 700th column. [Cue trumpets!]

I don’t like to think about it too much because it makes me feel a bit old when I do the math. Did you know that 700 columns, at a rate of about 50 per year, works out to roughly 14 years of weekly missives? Each column is about 700 words long. That’s some 490,000 words.

Now. If a westbound train leaves New York at a rate of 80 miles and hour and an eastbound train leaves Chicago at a rate of 140 miles an hour, then what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen European swallow?

More importantly, can you imagine if I had $1 for each of those 490,000 words? I probably would have squandered it on chocolate by now. Or expensive cat food.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the spectacular segue into what is really the topic of this, the glorious Column Number 700: my cats. (You didn’t really think I could spend a whole column talking about math, did you? Well, I probably could, but I won’t.)

One day last week Boychild wandered into the room where I was (surprise!) working on the computer and said, “Mom, when the cats die, can we get a dog?”

Please understand, I love my cats most of the time, but when I’m surrounded by dirty dishes, laundry, clutter and toys the cats are One More Thing That Makes Messes. For instance, I find the almost-daily upchuck of ye olde hairballs to be particularly tiresome. The cat-hair tumbleweed has lost its charm, too.

It took me longer to stifle a fit of laughter than it did to answer the question. “Go ask your father,” I said. (Another classic line from childhood.) So he did. He wandered into the next room where Groom-boy was busily plotting how he is going to Save the Planet from Certain Doom in Seven Easy Steps. Or he might have been reading the newspaper – I’m not sure.

Anyway, Boychild repeats the question and I hear Groom-boy prattling on in a very responsible, parental way about how dogs are a lot of work and they need to be walked and groomed and fed and how Boychild and his sister would have to pitch in and help a lot more and so on. You know, he answered in a classic political way – by not really answering the question – which worked well in this case. Boychild wandered off and dogs were not discussed again.

Well, actually, Groom-boy and I discussed the topic later in the kitchen. It was getting closer to feeding time, so Buster, the Extraordinarily Noisy and Sometimes Unfriendly Cat, was yowling and MacGregor, the Rather Enormous Tabby (who is not, surprisingly, the diabetic one), was clickety clacking across the linoleum meowing in his pathetic “I’m starving!” peepy way.

“You know, you can all be replaced,” I muttered as I gathered up food dishes. “Boychild wants a dog, so y’all better watch your step.”

This has been quite a little “after the kids go to bed” joke between Groom-boy and I, who have nothing better to do in the evening than mock cats and news anchors. (Clearly it’s time for a new hobby.)

Then, the other night, poor old Boychild called me into his room after he had gone to bed and had a cuddle with MacGregor. “I don’t want MacGregor to die,” he told me sadly.

So I, in my sure-footed (ha!) parental way, told him MacGregor, who is 13, still has lots of years to live.

“Well, how many?” Boychild asked.

Again with the math! “Well, um, I don’t know,” I babbled as my brain groped around for something solid on this topic. “He’s probably got a good five years or so to go.”

Boychild did the math and determined he’d be 12 when MacGregor is 18. “Well, that’s a long time!” he said cheerily.

Five years sure seems like forever when you’re a kid, doesn’t it? Similarly, 14 years of writing this column has been a blink. Okay, maybe two blinks. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and be extra nice to my cats so they’ll stick around a while.