Thursday, April 29, 2010

Past Deadline: Wilson Street Fitness Program

(This post is pretty localized, but anyone who has had to endure major construction in a small town can probably relate.)

Folks in Perth now have something to talk about besides the weather: Wilson Street. It’s always nice to have new things to talk about, yes?

Did you realize there are exciting side opportunities to this construction? I’m talking about things beyond the promise of a street that won’t wreck your car or knock your teeth out as you drive it, not to mention having water pipes updated from the 1920s and the addition of an inviting gateway to our downtown. The reduced risk of being swallowed up by a sinkhole and sucked into the depths of heck is good, too.

Still, there is no arguing the fact the construction is massively inconvenient and, for some, quite a hardship. It’s also not ideal that the town had to act quickly with a project that was “shovel ready” (as opposed to one requiring massive, lengthy studies like a bypass) in order to receive provincial and federal grants. It definitely limited choices. However, Wilson Street very obviously needed work and if someone else will pay for most of it, that’s not too shabby.

So what to do about that inconvenience? I figure our choices are to a) leave town for the duration or b) find the silver lining.

For those of us for whom leaving town is not a viable option, my take on the silver lining is three “Remarkable Opportunities.” The silver lining came to me last week, when the ribbon of pylons stretched from Isabella to the mall for the first time and drivers were forced to actually try to pay attention as they drove (which was not overly successful based on the number of people I saw brazenly driving the wrong way).

I see three Remarkable Opportunities:
1) Wilson Street can make us physically fit.
2) The construction provides a nice community social experience.
3) The congestion helps us to appreciate why we don’t choose to live in Toronto.

The Wilson Street Fitness Plan occurred to me when I realized I could walk home from my kids’ school faster than I could drive. We don’t drive every day to school, but I informed the kids we would be driving even less, at least on my watch. I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of anything I need on Wilson Street and, since I have taken up running, I can get there much faster. Okay, um, slightly faster.

I’m also going to use my bike more even though I have been “recovering” from a fall since 1988 and still have anxiety issues about biking. Since Drummond Street is busier with the detour traffic, though, I can sneak around on side streets when I have to go farther afield. Last week I rode to and from Algonquin College and SURVIVED! (Not a big deal to most, but a cause for celebration for me.)

This resolve to walk, run and bike to get around has benefits beyond fitness, too. It means one less vehicle adding to the congestion and pollution while idling in a line-up.

Secondly, and this is a nice segue into my next Remarkable Opportunity, it’s more social. As I spend more time on foot along the affected roadways I have the chance to chat with other walkers and even the drivers who are waiting, windows down, to get somewhere. It’s a lovely way to get to know people or connect with friends – and to commiserate about these woes.

I often chat with Lloyd the Crossing Guard at the corner of Wilson and Isabella and get updates on the silly things he has seen drivers do. (Hopefully that whole “driving the wrong way on the southbound lane” thing will be resolved soon. Maybe in another column I’ll think of some potential solutions to that problem, such as spike belts.)

My final Remarkable Opportunity is that perhaps the construction will help to remind us of why we choose to live here. Yes, we have to add extra time to our travels these days, but ultimately we’ll have a beautiful street to show for it. In Toronto, you add time to your trip just because – construction or not.

My favourite is still the fitness aspect, though. I’m hoping to have lost a good 10 pounds by fall.

Published in The Perth Courier, April 29/10.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Past Deadline: Hair-Raising Tales

There’s a great children’s story by Robert Munsch called Stephanie’s Ponytail that I like not only because of the fantastically fabulous first name it features, but also because of that character’s gumption.

In it, Stephanie asks her mom to put her hair in a “nice ponytail coming right out the back” because none of the other kids in her class have one. When she gets to school all the kids say, “Ugly, ugly, very ugly.” Stephanie retorts, “It’s my ponytail and I like it.”

Atta girl.

Wouldn’t you know it, the next day when she shows up at school all the other girls have lovely ponytails, too. Stephanie calls them copycats. The next morning she asks for a ponytail on the side. The “ugly” stuff is repeated and, you guessed it, the very next day all the girls and even some of the boys copy her.

This continues with a ponytail on the top of her head and in the front of her face. Then Stephanie loses it and yells, “You are a bunch of brainless copycats. You just do whatever I do. When I come tomorrow, I am going to have…SHAVED MY HEAD!”

So the next day (spoiler alert!) the teacher and the students show up bald, while Stephanie arrives with “a nice little ponytail coming right out the back.”

I was no “Stephanie” in elementary school. Blending in was my strongest desire, next to wanting a horse, that is. I’m not sure that I would have gone so far as to shave my head like everyone else, but if I had phoned all my friends the night before and was assured that, yes, that was what must be done in order to fit in then, possibly, I might have done it.

Yeah, yeah, yeah and if all my friends jumped off a cliff….

I see a lot of me in Boychild, but his hair is not long enough to put in a ponytail. Yet.

Girlchild, though, is another story. I stand in awe of her gumption. It terrifies me a little, too, because when she’s a teenager – yikes! Anyway, for now I can tell you (and so can the neighbourhood since we’ve opened our windows to the spring weather) that Girlchild knows what she likes and what she wants and has no problem expressing it.

A couple of Saturdays ago I asked Girlchild if she would like some braids in her hair. She wanted eight. No problem. The braids were looking a little rough on Sunday so I offered to redo them. She brought me 10 elastics. I like braiding. I learned how to do it in Brownies and it has obviously become a life skill.

When we ventured out that weekend we got lots of compliments on the braids, and she was quite pleased. On Monday she wanted to wear braids to school. I asked if she would like two (one on each side) or one at the back.

“Three!” was the answer.

I suggested that normally girls wear one or two to school. (Shades of my conformist past.)

“Three!” was the answer.

So I did three nicely spaced braids – one on each side and one at the back.

The next day she got her hair trimmed, and the hairdresser put her hair into two French braids.
So the diva wore her fancy braids to school on Wednesday. I was quick to explain to her fans that I am not that talented, despite having practised and practised on my Barbies years ago. She didn’t have school on Thursday and that night we had to undo the braids and wash the crinkly hair.

On Friday Mama was out of commission and the getting-kids-ready-for-school tasks were left to Daddy, who not only left Girlchild’s hair unadorned, but forgot to brush it entirely.

Ahem. So it was a week of extremes.

The point of all this is that I find it thrilling (most of the time) that Girlchild bucks these conventions and does what she likes. Maybe no one in Kindergarten has told her it’s unusual to wear three, eight or 10 braids to school, but I sure hope that if anyone does she’ll say, “They’re my braids and I like them!”

Published in The Perth Courier, April 22/10.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Past Deadline: Teenaged Fish

Now that I am (allegedly) a grown-up, not to mention a parent, I often marvel over the fact my own parents seemed to know what they were doing. How did that happen?

Maybe after my brother and I went to bed my parents broke out the tequila and had a good cry over the misery of it all – the “how will we ever cope with all the questions and anxiety” of it all. But I doubt it.

This, naturally, brings me to my fish.

I don’t know how my mother learned how to take care of tropical fish. Maybe someone taught her or maybe she did her research. I know that is what you should do when you get involved with a new hobby – especially one involving sustaining life. Thinking that you know what you’re doing because you kinda sorta did it before and nothing bad happened doesn’t always cut it. That’s just luck.

You may recall my 15-gallon Fish Tank of Doom has had its ups and downs. It is currently home to 10 neon tetras, two algae eaters and a surprise snail I’ve named Andy Sipowicz, because on the TV cop drama NYPD Blue Det. Andy Sipowicz had an elaborate aquarium at the precinct and he took exceptional care of it.

“You keep a healthy tank, you call yourself a guy who knows fish,” he said on the show. It was a metaphor for life. My snail helps to keep the tank clean.

A friend of mine also keeps tropical fish. She did her research. She has live plants in the aquarium, a variety of fish species, snails and algae eaters. She tests the water and knows the real honest-to-goodness meaning of things like “cycling the tank.” She buys her fish from a store that interrogates you before they will sell you their fish.

I’d probably be in jail right now if I had bought my fish from that store. But let’s not rehash the sad tale of the accidentally toxic water and the loss of the first batch of pretty little neon tetras. (Sniff.)

You may recall that with this current crop I didn’t realize I needed to “float the bag” when I put them in, so they all went into shock. They recovered.

Then, probably because of that shock, they developed ich. Two died, but with careful treatment and much hand wringing the rest recovered.

The other day I noticed a build-up of some whitish crud in one corner of the tank, so I set about changing water, cleaning stones and ornaments, scrubbing walls, etc. Basically, I dove in while the fish weren’t expecting it and completely rearranged their room. Some of them were ticked and showed symptoms of shock.

This time, instead of hand wringing, I laughed. No, I’m not evil. It’s just I can sympathize.

My mother used to wait until everyone left the house and she’d rearrange furniture. Upon our return from school, my brother and I would hear ABBA thumping away on the stereo.

“Oh oh. That’s Mom’s rearranging music.”

Sure enough, there would be changes. Sometimes it was the living room. Sometimes she would rearrange things in one or both of our bedrooms. Sometimes she would switch the rooms completely and I’d go from sleeping at the front of the house to the back or vice versa.

Most of the time it was disorienting but no big deal. In fact, sometimes the change was kinda neat – it was like getting a whole new room. As I got older, though, the rearranging became a territorial thing. My stuff was moved. It could be stressful.

Fish are like teenagers, it seems. Sensitive. Easily stressed. I wasn’t necessarily prone to doing a weird vertical dippy dive swimmy thing like the fish do, but I probably had something to say about it.

The fish eventually settled down and everything was fine, except the water was a tiny bit cloudy. So, thinking I now know the drill, I added some of the stuff to clear the water – except it made it worse.

What the heck? Should I call my mother? What would Sipowicz do? I’m guessing he would not be impressed. He might even put me in jail.

Published in The Perth Courier, April 15/10

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Past Deadline: Shoving a Kid Over the Wall

Sometimes it’s hard for kids to realize they should try new things. I speak from experience. I was that kid. I’m really not sure what I thought would happen if I tried something new – the world would end? The sky would fall? I would be left abandoned and alone?

Maybe not having an exact idea of the end result was the problem. What bad thing might happen if I stuck my neck out and went to camp or tried that game all the other kids were playing or whatever? For whatever reason, though, I was convinced it would end badly.

Sure, sometimes I was right. Sometimes when we try new things we fail miserably, but other times it turns out to be the Best Thing Ever. It’s a risk that is often worth taking.

As a parent there’s a fine line between knowing how hard to push a kid into to trying something new and when to leave it alone. Sometimes they just need a little bit of time to decide on their own that, yes, this is something worth trying and it could be lots of fun. Other times, pushing too hard just results in tears, tantrums and resentment along with a long-lasting dislike or fear of whatever it was you forced him or her into trying. Like eating Brussels sprouts. Or jumping into a swimming pool.

Summer camp is an example. I was a shy kid, but I really enjoyed being in Girl Guides – especially the cookies. I was brave enough to venture off with my company to occasional overnight camp-outs, but you couldn’t make me go to summer camp. If I remember correctly it was a week or two in length and located quite some distance from home – like Pluto. I balked.
Part of me really wanted to go, but I was nervous about being that far from home for that long with a lot of people I didn’t know (not unreasonable fears, I suppose).

I think deep down I knew I would love it, though. A friend used to go and she raved about it and pined for camp when she returned. But I had this wall of fear in my head that I couldn’t breach. If my parents had pushed me I’m quite certain I would not only have survived, but I would have loved camp as much as my friend did. How could they have known that, though? My anxiety about it was pretty real – and since going to camp was not necessary for good health and survival, what would be the point of pushing?

I think my parents had pretty good ideas about when to push. Take my brother, for instance, who was nervous about water. I still remember the screaming after they suited him up in enough PFDs to float a boat and pried him off the ladder in our backyard swimming pool. He floated, by gum, and it turns out he LIKED the water. After that he and I practically lived in the pool all summer every summer for years.

There are many times, particularly with Boychild, when I struggle with the dilemma of pushing versus not pushing. (Girlchild doesn’t need any prodding – she tends to embrace every life situation with gusto. I stand in awe of this fearlessness, although I’m sure it will cause different dilemmas in the future.)

Anyway, I was reminded of this parenting issue on the weekend in a minor way. Boychild got a new bike because his old one was too small. He even told us he needed a new one. When presented with the new, bigger one, however, he balked. It was “too big.” We prodded him to climb on. He tried it for about a half a millisecond, struggled and stormed off in disgust. (He’s a “stomp stomp stomp slam” kinda person, like his mama.)

We prodded and reasoned and explained the features of the new bike and, with some time and persistence, by the end of the day he was riding it and loving it.

I doubt we’ll be shipping him off to camp anytime soon, but maybe he’ll slowly learn that if he tries something, he just might like it. Like Brussels sprouts.

Published in The Perth Courier, April 8/10