Friday, September 9, 2011

I will be guest blogging on KidScoop!

Look for an article soon on KidScoop

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Have You Read "We Need To Talk About Kevin"?

Over the last few weeks I haven't had the time nor the inspiration to write, however, after finishing a book last night that had one of the biggest impacts on me ever, I felt compelled to blog about it.  It left me somewhere between speechless and having too much to say.  A very strange crossroad indeed.  The book I finished reading was entitled We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

I remember in April asking my friend Bonnie who is an avid reader if she had read it - she told me that she had read it as part of her book club and that it was the one of her most memorable book club meetings ever.  We spoke about the book briefly and so I knew what I was in for, knew it was going to be a hard read, but I felt it was an important one too.  I can't say it was the best book I've read (far from it) but it was one of those books you kept reading due to morbid fascination - kind of like passing an accident and feeling compelled to look even though you know you may see something you don't want to see.  I believe it's important that we sometimes see the things we don't want to see.  Anyway, last night I felt like I just had to finish it because I didn't want to read it anymore!

For those of you who have never heard of this book, it's the story of a mother, Eva, who recounts through letters to her estranged husband coming to grips with her son Kevin who kills 7 students, 1 teacher and a cafeteria worker at his high school 3 days before turning 16.  It recounts how she debated over having children and how from the moment Kevin was born, she felt no bond to him.  As a result, Eva tries to scrutinize her role and responsibility for the resulting massacre, as well as trying to answer the question "why?".  The review on Amazon asks "Was it for revenge, then, that from the moment of his birth Kevin was the archetypal difficult child, screaming for hours, refusing to nurse, driving away countless nannies, and intuitively learning to "divide and conquer" his parents?"  Was it Eva's coldness and distance as a mother that turned Kevin into a killer or was he just born that way?  I won't provide any further details about the story should you wish to read the book, but let's just say that the ending left me crying in my bed.  I'm not sure I saw the end coming... or maybe I didn't want to see the end coming. 

I'm one of those people who doesn't necessarily have trouble falling asleep, I'm usually good until about 3am and then have trouble staying asleep.  Last night however, I sat in bed, cried and tossed and turned trying to fall asleep. I usually go to bed between 9 and 10 pm but was up well past midnight because I couldn't get my mind off this story.  Although it was fiction, there have been enough school shootings to feel it's reality - not to mention all the questions it raises about maternal love.  I had to go in and kiss each of my children in their sleep - something I never do for fear of waking them up. 

The book made me look at the bond I have with my children - unquestionably, my love for them comes naturally.  However, they are human so I don't always like them - or maybe it's just their actions I don't always like.  In any case, the book raises the question of the difference between loving your children and liking them.  I don't necessarily believe all parents like their children - I think you can love someone but not always like them.  Could you still love a child and come to grips with something so horrible as a school massacre?  Eva continues to visit Kevin in jail and tries to understand him.  Because the reader has such a dislike for him, it's hard to understand how she can sit across the table from him at all, especially given her dislike for him growing up and for the fact that he ruined her life.

At the end of the book I was left with a feeling of desolation.  We all know that when something terrible happens, it reminds us to take one day at a time and cherish all of the little moments in life, but when you think about it, it is kind of crazy to have to "remember" to enjoy these moments.  Our days are so jammed packed that we often go on auto pilot - an unfortunate reality of modern life.  There are those odd people out there who are born with the gift of appreciation but I think those people are lucky and it's not the norm.  Just like some people are born eternal optimists or with a happy disposition, some people just get the gift of seeking enjoyment in all they do.  Yesterday I was drafting a blog post for the ShaToBu website and at the end I wrote how life is a journey, that it's not just about the destination.  That if we are so focused on where we are going, we don't always stop to enjoy the ride.  After finishing the book last night, the weight of that hit me head on.

So what left me so unsettled was not just the precariousness of life itself, but also how to make "taking time to smell the roses" a part of my everyday life.  How do you hold on to this feeling and apply it without needing reminders?  I don't want something bad to happen in order to make me stop and enjoy each day.  I want to live that way always.  Is that even possible?  I think it's a whole lot more difficult to live in the present than it is to live for the future... but then, what a waste of today.  If anyone at all reading this has accomplished this feat, I beg of you to share the secret.  Until then, take this as a reminder to stop a moment today and be grateful for what you have and stop worrying about what you want.  There's always time to worry about that tomorrow.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Faking It - Do you?

There are a few things that come to mind when you say "faking it" - usually the first is orgasms.  But there are a whole lot of things that people fake in their lives.  I don't think faking it at times is all bad - it has it's time and place.  Can you just imagine if people didn't fake things on a regular basis?  Say, for example, when you ask someone "How are you?".  They may actually be feeling like crap and be miserable, but they will probably answer "Good, and you?".  Would you consider this faking it?

It made me start thinking about what else people fake, and why they do it.  Here is a short list of things people often fake:
  • being nice to someone you don't really like
  • being sick (or the good old "headache")
  • knowing about something you really don't know anything about
  • being rich or successful
  • weight
  • confidence
  • a smile or laughter
  • giving an honest opinion (really, those jeans don't make your butt look fat)
  • your resume
  • your age
  • a tan
  • plastic surgery
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and some may cross over into "lying" territory rather than "faking it" territory.  So in which situations is faking it a good thing?  I see nothing wrong in little white lies where you have someone's best interest at heart and no harm is ultimately done.  I also believe in faking how you feel at certain times.  If you're down in the dumps, it's often easier to fake being happy - not only for you but also for those around you.  Often pretending to be happy results in you ultimately being happy.  Of course I'm not talking about major things but rather more temporary or trivial things.  I don't propose that people suppress their negative emotions and not deal with life's challenges... but sometimes it can be useful.  I remember faking being happy after a breakup - not only for his sake, but also for my pride and for the sake of my friends (who I'm sure did not want to hear for the 100th time what a jerk the guy was).  I've also heard that smiling boosts our immune system, reduces our stress, lowers our blood pressure, and makes people like us more. A pretty good argument for putting on a happy face.

I'm also trying to be a believer in the good old "self-fulfilling prophecy" philosophy.  I was recently given a book to read called The Biology of Belief.  There are people who just generally believe good things will happen, and for them, they usually do.  Take my husband for example.  He never worries about parking, he just expects there to be a spot.  Most of the time, that's the case.  On the other hand, I worry about finding parking and I often have to circle and circle to find a spot.  So I've been trying hard lately to "fake" believing in the things I want to have actually happen.  I guess when things do start to happen, I'll become more of a believer.  I will say it's hard to make the change in my head.  I think some people are just born as positive thinkers and believers, while others who are more worriers - like me.  I'll let you know if faking it helps change that!

I also think faking confidence is a good thing.  I remember my first day on the job as an articling student at a big downtown Toronto law firm.  One of the first tasks I was given was an Affidavit of Documents.  I think I was hyperventilating because I had no idea what it was.  But I remained calm and when I found out what it was... no big deal (basically just filing all of the documents in the case in date order).  I take this lesson into many aspects of my life - I reckon I'm bright enough to figure things out in most cases - so why not fake it till I do?!

I think we fake things for the most part to mask insecurities and to feel better about ourselves.  We're concerned with the possible judgment that may be passed by our family, friends and peers.  I think this is especially true in motherhood.  We worry about so many things and wonder if others will find us lacking if truth be told, we didn't always have all of the answers.  I'm sure we've all had those mom moments when we discover that another mom has a similar challenge and concern and we feel utter relief that we are not alone.  Those are the times I think faking it is bad.  The times we need the support and encouragement from fellow moms.

At the end of the day, we all do it to a certain extent.  As long as we do for the better good and stay true to ourselves, I really see no harm.  When faking it ends up suppressing or hurting ourselves in some way (or others), then it's time to step back and re-evaluate.  In the meantime, I'm super happy it's Friday afternoon and the weekend is upon us.  And I'm not faking that at all!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kids Who Don't Listen - Do You Have One?

I've noticed a disturbing pattern developing in our home lately and it seems to be escalating.   It's also one I need to break... quickly.  In one breath I'll tell one of my kids to either (1) do something or (2) not do something... and they just completely ignore me.  It's like I never uttered a word.  Does this sound familiar...

Myles/Charley (insert your child's name), dinner is ready - go wash your hands and come down to eat.  Nothing.... Did you hear me?  Dinner is ready, let's go!  Nothing... Myles/Charley, stop colouring now and come down for dinner!  Nothing... If you don't come down right now, then there's no TV and no dessert tonight!

Or how about...

Don't touch the papers on the kitchen table.  I turn around for a second and when I turn back, papers are scattered all ove the table.  I said don't touch, which part of "don't touch" did you not understand???  Only to have the same thing repeated with something else 5 minutes later.
You get the picture.  I have to say, repeating myself 100 times over is driving me crazy.  Of course my fustration is mounting and so when this now happens, I've begun snapping.  I don't want to be be snapping AND it doesn't appear that the snapping is helping anyway.  I've also tried the good old "If you're not going to listen, you're going for a time out" and "If you're not going to listen, I'm going to take away XYZ".  Nada.  I need a new tactic!  Or two or three.

So first off, I wanted to check how common this problem actually is.  Check out this tidbit I found:  "Most children don't listen much of the time. In fact, Sandra Rief, a noted educational specialist, reports research that suggests children only retain about 25% of what they hear as compared to 50% of what they see and hear. In parenting, as well as teaching, there is too much reliance on talking as the primary means of getting children to learn new behaviors or follow the rules."

I also found this very interesting piece on Ezine Articles about what we might be doing wrong:

1.  We talk too much. Loving parents want to do the best for their children so they feel if they tell them all the stories of how they struggled and how they know all the answers, the child will give up and do what we ask. This method of communication is lecture, advise, order and threaten.
2.  We talk too loud. We feel that if we raise our voice they will respond. Actually, it is the opposite. When you speak softly, they have to pay attention to what you are saying.
3.  Every conversation is a criticism. The parent feels the way to motivate is through blame, shame, name-calling, sarcasm or jokes in order to put the child down.
4.  We don't listen when they speak. Good communication in a family, workplace or world is built on mutual respect. That means we allow others to express their beliefs and feeling honestly, without fear of rejection.
5.  They have trained us to nag. Why should they pick up their jacket the first time you tell them if they know by experience that you will yell 6 times and then do it yourself?
OK, I see the point.  Perhaps I'm making a few of those mistakes.  When I review this list, I know that I hate being yelled at, interrupted and being nagged, so why wouldn't they?  I know I can definitely keep trying to talk more in the positive.  It's just that it comes more naturally to state what you don't like about the behaviour rather than turning it around and finding a positive way of saying it.  But if it works and it benefits my kids, it's well worth the effort. 

Here's another solution suggested by iVillage:

I suggest parents teach their kids to listen using the A, B, C and D's.
A. Ask in a no-kidding-around tone of voice
B. Be clear and specific
C. Communicate your request in six words or less
D. Don't make not listening an option

For instance, if you ask the kids to get ready for bed and they tune you out, say, "Bedtime. Please, turn the television off." Don't walk away and hope the kids will do as they're told. Stay with them until it's done. Turn off the television yourself if needed, and just thank the kids for listening. Don't yell, don't threaten the kids, just do it. Be creative. Getting ready for bed can be turned into a game, or you can give the kids motivation to cooperate by saying, "Go get ready for bed and choose the book you want me to read."
I will definitely be giving all of these tips a try.  Albert Einstein did say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  So I obviously have to make a change.  At the end of the day, all I really want is a peaceful home, and a peaceful home includes children who listen.  I'll let you know how it goes...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Do Your Kids Play Outside Unsupervised?

I recently read a comment from a mom who let her 3 and 5 year old play on their street unsupervised (they lived on a quiet court) and was upset because one of the neighbours was a fast driver and she felt she should slow down and pay attention to the small children playing outside on the street.  Wow!  My kids are 4 and 6 and I'm thinking their not playing outside without someone watching for a LONG time to come.  We do let my 6 year old son play in his sand box in our fenced in yard, but only if the dog is out there with him.  Even then, I'm usually in the kitchen and checking on him regularly.  But it did make me wonder... at what age should they be allowed?

When I was a kid, we all played outside without supervision from a very young age. That is not the reality in today's world... we are either much more knowledgeable or much more paranoid, but either way, it ain't what it used to be!  There are no laws that stipulate at what age a child can play unsupervised, so I went to look online... there are lots of conversations on the topic, however, no real consensus.  I guess there are too many factors to consider... if you live in the city or in a more rural neighbourhood, your child's personality, if they have older siblings, if there are other neighbourhood kids playing outside unsupervised, etc., etc.  

In the US, there are many Home Owner Associations that are passing regulations that children under the age of 16 cannot play outside alone.  I found articles on the topic from Colorado and from Florida.  Personally, I think 16 is a little crazy - but it appears that the HOAs are not only worried about safety, but also vandalism (and one in Florida is a retirement community - another whole story there). 

Basically, I found nothing.  If I had to go on pure impulse, I would say somewhere between ages 9 and 11  - depending on my child when he/she reaches that age.  What do you think??? 

And here's something else to consider... because we don't let our children play outside unsupervised, they are less active, watch more TV and play more video games.  What about those consequences?  I read an article from the UK Telegraph discussing the fact that limiting unsupervised play may affect our children's development - here's a quote:
Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, said it was important that children were given more opportunities to play outside.
"We know that 80 per cent of children prefer to play outside and 86 per cent of parents agreed that on a nice day their children would prefer to go to the park than watch TV," he told a Sunday newspaper.
"Yet children spend less time outside than they would like and less than parents did as children. In our consultations parents told us this is because there are not enough safe places to go - and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that parents think their children are safer playing inside on a computer than outside."
The consultation paper follows a report by Dr Tanya Byron, a psychologist, on the harmful effects of video games and computers on children.
I definitely want to make sure that my kid are active... which means more structured activities.  That's of course another topic of it's own.  It's also important to me that they enjoy the outdoors.  When it's nice out in spring/summer/fall, I do try to take them to the park or let them ride their bikes/scooters in front of our house after dinner, but as a working mom I'm not always up for it at the end of a long day.  It's a challenge sometimes, but I do try and push myself since our nice weather is so very fleeting.  Thankfully, they've always had time outside at day care and now at recess.  I'm so looking forward to this summer when my son will go to day camp for the very first time - he has no idea how much fun he will have being outdoors all day, every day.  I will, however, point out that this is still ALL supervised outdoor play.

What I remember from my childhood was running wild with friends and exploring.  That must do something for our sense of adventure and self-confidence.  How will our kids fare when they are finally allowed out on their own?  Does it make the world a scarier place?  Will they be so used to our guardianship that they won't know how to take care of themselves?  Or will they rebel and be risk-takers?  All scary stuff with not a lot of answers.

As our world continues to evolve, so does our parenting.  We assume that we know more today as parents than previous generations, but do we really?  I feel like we are often in uncharted waters and just hoping we are heading the right direction.  One thing is for certain, we can't go back... so here's hoping that what we do today will do right by our children's futures.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Do You Live Beyond Your Means? How Do People Do It These Days?

Between mine and my husband's salaries we make a pretty good living, and yet we never feel like we have a whole lot of disposable income.  I often look around at friends and acquaintances who can't be making that much more than us, but who seem to live much more lavish lifestyles - more trips, bigger houses, fancier cars, dinners and shows, etc. I can't help but wonder, how do they do it? 

We try hard to put money away toward savings, but I never feel like I'm doing enough.  Our priority right now is definitely our children's education - we contribute the maximum to their RESPs every year.  And of course, money goes toward RRSPs.  I recently created a budget and tried to figure out where to cut on expenses... I didn't have a whole lot of success.  And I kept asking myself, are we doing something wrong?

Expenses for certain things have definitely gone up - I find our grocery bill ridiculous.  I saw an episode recently of TLC's new show Extreme Couponing and thought maybe I needed to try coupons.  Then I read a couple of blog posts from women who had also seen the new show and experimented... the time it took to find the coupons and go to the right stores didn't seem to make it worthwhile, unless you wanted to do it as a full time job like the women on the show.  Since time is something I don't have a ton of as it is, I'm thinking this is not the way to do it for our family.  Although using a few coupons here and there can't be all bad if they are for stores where I'm already shopping... I'll put that on my to-do list.

In all seriousness though, I did a little search on "how to live within your means" and found mostly the same stuff.  Here's an article that had one of the most common list of tips.  We already do quite a bit of what was included:  I have created a budget so we know what comes in and how much goes out, we don't have credit card debt, we don't eat out often, I bring a lunch almost every day, I don't buy coffee daily (although my husband often does, despite my purchase of a Nespresso machine), I make a shopping list before doing the groceries, etc. etc.  The reality is, we are pretty simple folks.  We don't make extravagant purchases or feel we have to keep up with the Joneses, but somehow, others seem to just do more.  Of course, they may be living in debt or on credit, who knows!

This is one of those areas that just doesn't get discussed amongst friends, and often even amongst family.  It seems intrusive and off limits.  But I am asking... how do you do it?  For any of you brave enough to answer, I'm sure that I'm not the only one wondering! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Would You Consider Plastic Surgery?

As I edge closer to my mid-40's, I understand how natural it is for many women to contemplate plastic surgery.  So far, I'm pretty darned lucky and look much younger than my age, however, I am definitely noticing changes with my body.  Probably the most notable to my own eyes is my skin tone - it's not as smooth and even as it used to be (yes mom, I know you told me the sun is poison...).

I'm not a vain person but I do start to wonder how much one's looks are tied up with both one's self-confidence and happiness.  There's no question that when you're at your best (i.e. good hair day, feeling less bloated than usual, brighter eyes from a full night sleep, hot outfit, etc.) you feel better and your whole mood changes.  So as things start to droop and sag, I wonder if I will be able to maintain my sense of self-confidence despite the aging process.

I've always said that there was no way I'd go under the knife.  I don't necessarily think there's anything wrong with it if you do, but it's just not for me.  I might, however, be in the minority.  With the ever growing popularity of cosmetic procedures, it has not only become widely acceptable, but also widely accessible.  In addition, there are also many less invasive and less expensive options to choose from... which may be the reason so many more women are turning to these types of procedures.

Here were the most popular cosmetic surgery procedures for 2010*:

2010 Top Five Cosmetic Surgical Procedures
Breast Augmentation 296,000 (2% increase from 2009)
Nose Reshaping 252,000 (1% decrease from 2009)
Eyelid Surgery 209,000 (3% increase from 2009)
Liposuction 203,000 (2% increase from 2009)
Tummy Tuck 116,000 (1% increase from 2009)

2010 Top Five Cosmetic Minimally-Invasive Procedures
Botulinum Toxin Type A 5.4 million (12% increase from 2009)
Soft Tissue Fillers 1.8 million (3% increase from 2009)
Chemical Peel 1.1 million (no change)
Laser Hair Removal 938,000 (5% increase from 2009)
Microdermabrasion 825,000 (9% decrease from 2009)

*Source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons

I get it... if there was no pain, no risk and it cost nothing, I'd be the first in line for the tummy tuck!  Birthing two kids in my late thirties... well, need I say more?  In the meantime, I just work the abs as best I can and suck it up that I now have a permanent muffin top.

When I look at the stats, my concern turns to what this means if we choose NOT to pursue any kind of procedure, invasive or not.  Is it possible to age gracefully while we socialize with friends and family who look "better" or "younger" because they chose cosmetic surgery?  Do we develop a stronger sense of self-esteem as we get older (in addition to the lines and wrinkles) to deal with this? I'm not so sure.  Of course, there are many examples of cosmetic surgery gone bad and in that case, those of us who choose to stay "au naturale" will feel much better.  With this ever-growing popularity, I think that many women are going to feel like this is one instance they may have to "keep up with the Joneses".  For me, unless they develop some very cool laser that is painless and risk free and makes us look 25 again, I'm out of this rat race.

My bigger concern, however, is what this means for our daughters.  They're growing up knowing that if you don't like something about yourself, you just go have it fixed.  What happened to self-acceptance and appreciating our uniqueness?  Will they want to achieve the media's version of beautiful and end up all looking the same?  And then when they have daughters who look nothing like them, then what? 

And how sick is this - a plastic surgeon wrote a book called "My Beautiful Mommy" for mother's with young children contemplating plastic surgery.  So we're supposed to explain to our young daughters that mommy is just not beautiful the way she is and that she has to go through painful procedures in order to be so... while at the same time telling them they are beautiful just they way they are?  Talk about being a hypocrite.

I'm all for making ourselves look and feel our best.  I also completely understand fixing a feature that has caused abject embarrassment and teasing, especially when it gets to the point of damaging our self-esteem.  But where do we draw the line?  When is enough enough?  Let me know what you think... would you consider plastic surgery (or have you)?  If so, why?