It Starts With Me


I've never written about politics in this space — this space I call a gift to my children and a collection of stories, as seen through my eyes. But lately, my eyes have felt uneasy with the scenery of our life. I want to save the best stories for them, but what happens in the rest of the world is part of their story, too.  

I've been scared and saddened by the devastation and hurt and ignorance that continues to parade boldly before me and the rest of the world. If this space is for my children, then I owe it to them to stop hiding behind my lack of political savvy. I owe it to them to speak about how I feel — even when I have nothing more to offer than the ministrations of my heart. 

Like many of you, that heart has been made heavy and weary by global events and political discourse in recent months. But I have the privilege of watching it from a distance. I have felt uncomfortable, yes, but can I stand on the sidelines if I choose to. 

Yesterday, that changed. We met friends for lunch and spent time with a boy I have known most of his life. A boy who is knocking on the door of manhood at 15 years old. And while we caught up with one another, he told me that when he hangs out with his friends in public places, he is watched, he is followed, he is judged. He knows this even though he is still a child. He knows this will follow him into his adulthood. He said it with a matter-of-fact tone. 

This boy who is good and kind. This boy who speaks matter-of-fact about matters that shouldn't be fact. This boy who is sometimes seen first by the colour of his skin. And because it's not the way I look at him, I had too easily forgotten. His parents, my dear friends, don't get to forget.

When my parents brought me and my sister into the world, they proved love can exist outside the boundaries of race. And they handed me a responsibility to continue demonstrating that truth. But I still felt boundaries imposed upon me when I was young. I still felt the need to prove my belonging among my peers. I still had to fight through years of insecurity to embrace my ethnicity and speak out against prejudice. And I have been telling myself I triumphed, because I put it behind me.

But these recent world events have reminded me that my triumph can't be passed on to my children, along with the other traits they've inherited from me. Those matter-of-fact words from my friend's son reminded me I've been taking solace in knowing my children have never been on the receiving end of the kind of judgement I experienced and so many others continue to experience. But in doing so, have I also protected them from recognizing that it's happening? A reminder came and sat at our table with us yesterday. I've been telling myself I triumphed, because I no longer let myself be pushed down or affected by judgments or prejudices. But it's not a triumph if it only serves me. 

Though we are thoughtfully raising our children to be tolerant and accepting, they haven't yet felt the sting of not having that decency returned to them. They have the benefit of so many factors that make things easier for them. But I know there is value in returning to and sharing the discomfort that reared itself in my childhood and that continues to make itself known today.

I shouldn't be afraid to speak up because I don't know enough about politics — I do know right from wrong. And if I do make a mistake with my words, the only way I can be taught how to make it right is to be loud enough to be heard. If I don't open myself to learning, what can I teach my children? I want them to take the baton that was passed to me by my parents and keep running. I want triumph to be something they view as a global achievement and not one that belongs to them as individuals. I want them to understand the responsibilities of citizenship and humanity. 

I can continue to teach them it's not okay to build walls of segregation because of beliefs or gender or race or sexual orientation. They already know this; I am confident we are showing them by example and discussion. But this worldwide turmoil has reminded me it's not okay be complacent while those around you are engaging and supporting any action that lacks citizenship or hurts humanity. 

It's not right to treat others with disregard for their value. 

My hopes are simple, but they are enough for my children to understand and begin to value as their own: educate yourself, cast your ballots, lift up your hearts, reach out your hand, open your doors.

Come away from the sidelines, pass on the baton, run towards triumph for everyone. 








7 Songs From the 80s: When Angst Was A Good Friend


I was recently asked by a friend — with whom I spent a lot of time in the 80s — to share seven memorable songs from that time. I enjoy any chance to think about music and how it has shaped me. And it would be no surprise to anyone who looked inside my journal from that decade to see these songs are all about longing and angst and heartbreak. I've always felt connected to others by music and knowing others felt the same way was comforting. 

Nothing magical happened to me during those years. I never got the boy, I wasn't popular, I wasn't all that memorable. It was hard then, but I'm glad went through it. I remember those days as a time I was caught between two versions of myself: the nervous observer the outer world saw and the dramatic and bold girl who only made herself known inside the sanctuary of a candy-coloured bedroom. I spent a lot of time on my own, writing the lyrics to songs in my best cursive and folding them over and over on themselves, so I could glue them into that journal. Maybe I thought it was better to let someone else tell my story during that time; it was easier than trying to figure out how to tell it myself. 

In that way, not much has changed. I am still the kind of music fan that identifies with and becomes attached to lyrics and storytelling in songs. I still fall head over heels in love with moody, sad songs and play them on repeat until my family begs me to stop. As for which version of myself I eventually became, I think I landed somewhere in the middle. And I'm glad about that, too.

I've listened to these songs in cars with the windows rolled all the way down, in darkened school gyms during awkward dances, and on repeat through the foam-covered headphones of my Sony Walkman.

In the 80s, I was the same age as my two oldest children are now. Hearing these songs today, I don't feel any regret it wasn't a more spectacular decade for me. I've kept the journal to remind myself it's okay to be confused about who you are, and it's okay to spend time alone figuring it out. I look at it sometimes to remind myself how big my feelings were, when I'm trying to help my kids navigate their own big feelings. And I always feel such a sweet gratitude for these songs when I see those handwritten lyrics.

They knew the words when I didn't and they invited me to sing along.

CARS: Who's Gonna Drive You Home? (1984)

BILLY VERA & THE BEATERS: At This Moment (1981)

HEART: Alone (1987)

DEPECHE MODE: Somebody (1984)

BANGLES: Eternal Flame (1989)

PETER GABRIEL: Don't Give Up (1986)

KATE BUSH: This Woman's Work (1989)



Mom Guilt, Be Gone!


I didn't really believe it was going to happen until I was waving in the driveway while the kids were pulling away with JB at the wheel. And then it took me a few minutes longer to command my body to turn around and go back into the house, instead of chasing the minivan down the road and asking to jump inside. 

For the past couple of days, I've been in seclusion. JB tells me whenever I have a very rare snippet of quiet time, I give it away to others and other things. And he thinks I should make it more of a priority to give some of that quiet time to myself. He makes sense, but I have a hard time following through on his advice. I've come to understand that I'm a person who feels like I'm doing a good job when I'm doing too much. Until I start to make mistakes or get overwhelmed and then end up feeling like I'm not doing such a good job, after all. I'm not without gratitude for my many fortunes, but sometimes I let it get too noisy to be able to appreciate them.

He packed up the kids and took them to his family three hours away for the long weekend. He told me not to do anything for anyone but myself. I think he's hopeful I'll tackle some of the projects that have been staring us down for the past several months (office renovation and messy basement and overstuffed freezer), but he won't be upset if I don't. And he definitely won't say anything when he gets back and sees everything that didn't get done — at least not in a way that's meant to make me feel bad (even though I'll probably let it make me feel bad).

Like anyone else with a hectic life and young children, the house gets cluttered and messy. And we do a pretty good job of stepping around it, until we try to tackle a home reno project or 10 months worth of schoolwork arrives on our dining room table at once. Then I find myself standing helplessly in front of all of it wondering how I can make it disappear. And, admittedly, I feel resentment because I let myself think a failure to do so is a failure on my part.

Last week, I wrote a piece for Today's Parent on being the scheduler-in-chief for our family, not necessarily because I always want to, but because I feel obligated to. I really wish I was better at letting myself off the hook. And I want to be a good role model for my kids. I want them to jump into parenthood with their whole beings, because there is so much joy to be found in doing that, but I don't want them to feel it has to come at the cost of their own well-being or success (as so well said by my friend, Ali). 

I know I'm at the start of a busy summer and JB's gesture of easing me into it is very appreciated. So are the texts and messages from my fellow parents telling me to ignore the chores and sleep in late. Yes, there is a lot that needs to get done around this house, but there's a lot I need to do for myself, too. 

I've read two newspapers on the same day they arrived, fed myself hot breakfasts with bottomless coffee, taken several long walks, listened to and bought records, repotted all the houseplants, sewed up some tattered stuffed animals, helped my parents with the Bluetooth in their car, cleaned the garage, returned a pile of merchandise that was too small or not the right colour, vacuumed, Netflixed, slept, and let go of the guilt. 

I hope I'll get to the towering clutter in our dining room before the kids pull into the driveway tonight. But if I don't, it's okay. I have dinner plans with my parents tonight and that's more important. And clutter isn't so bad anyway. Sparsely decorated, clutter-free homes will always tug at my conscience and nudge the guilt button, but my life isn't sparse — it doesn't make sense that my home would be.

This quiet, me-centred weekend is exactly what I needed to face down the mayhem of summer that begins tomorrow. And it was exactly what I needed to remind myself I don't have to do it all, that no one expects me to, and that a messy and cluttered home is the picture of everything I've ever wanted. 

And, JB? 

You get to sleep in tomorrow.