Just Call me Hermione

I am nearing the end of my second semester back at university, in my quest for my teaching degree. While there continue to be high points and low points, I have gotten into the swing of things. It’s been a struggle to make time for my own schoolwork with my kids on summer vacation, but they’re in summer camp this week so that helps. To quote the opening credits of 19 Kids and Counting (a show I am embarrassed to admit I am addicted to), “It isn’t always easy, but somehow we make it all work.” Mostly.

I had a good inkling that I would do all right in my classes. I have always been a good student. Schoolwork came easily to me from the start. My delightfully neurotic nature helps, because I really do care and want to do well. I get good grades, I raise my hand in class, I work hard and I hand my assignments in on time.

good student hermione grangerWhen I hit puberty my academic success caused a lot of conflict for me. I didn’t really want to be the smart girl, because it didn’t really make me popular. The other girls in my elementary school were often annoyed by me. The boys, when they started to pay attention, were put off by the fact I got better marks than they did. I tried to play it down, play dumb, speak up less, make myself blend in. It never really worked. Looking back I’m glad I wasn’t more successful at making myself into someone I’m not. At the time it was hard, though.

Going back to school, I wasn’t sure I would do as well academically. After all, my brain isn’t getting any younger. I’ve noticed that my memory isn’t what it was when I was 18 years old anymore. I also have a whole lot more going on, with kids and work and a house to take care of.

The good news is that while I might be older, my life experiences have actually proven very helpful. As a parent I’ve had to become much more organized and focused. I procrastinate less, and get things done more. I know how to prioritize, because if I didn’t dinner would never get made. My life is a bit of a balancing act, but luckily I have a lot of experience with balancing acts at this point, so that’s to the good. As a result, I am still a good student.

My daughter Hannah and I have been re-reading Harry Potter together again recently, and the combination of re-entering that literary world and being back at school has driven home for me how very much I am like Hermione Granger. I like to follow rules. I raise my hand a lot in class. And I’ve even found myself reading my textbooks to unwind. On a recent exam, I spotted an error in the answer key. I get my work done ahead of schedule, and talk about what I’m learning in class to anyone who will listen. Typing all of this out I want to apologize for it. I feel that same conflict I felt when I was 13. I’m worried that people will find me insufferable, and they won’t like me.

One other advantage of age, though, is realizing that you can’t please everyone. No matter what, someone will disagree with you, question you, or just plain dislike you. Given that, you might as well just please yourself. So, go ahead, call me Hermione. I can be the smart girl, who is good at school and actually enjoys the academic process, and not apologize for it. In fact, I am that girl, and pretty much everyone who’s ever sat in class with me knows it, so there’s no use in pretending. Instead, I can let my inner geek loose, to revel in academia.

Now, if only I had the ability to get my kitchen to magically clean itself, life would be perfect.

I Tried Wakeboarding!

Last week was a pretty sweet week to be me. My family and I were hosted by Destination Osoyoos, promoting family-friendly getaways to a beautiful part of British Columbia. It took us about four and a half hours to get there by car, but it’s a very different place than Vancouver. While I live in a rainforest, Osoyoos is Canada’s only true desert, with a dry and sunny landscape. And there’s a lake, too, and some totally fabulous wineries. What’s not to love?

While we were planning the trip, the organizers presented me with a number of things my family and I could do during our visit. Wakeboarding was on the list, and on a whim I thought, “Okay, sure, why not?” This is how, last Thursday at 2:00pm, my nine-year-old daughter and I found ourselves on the dock in front of our hotel shaking hands with Rob Rausch, owner and manager of Wakepilot. (PS – It looks like he’s not just an amazing wakeboarding coach, but he also flies Boeing 777s for Air Canada. So, you know, not too shabby.)

osoyoos walnut beach

My daughter was super-pumped to try, so she put on her life jacket and jumped in the water first. Rob took her through exactly what would happen, and had her practice her stance and holding the rope. She had a helmet with speakers in the ears, not for safety but so he could communicate with her. When she was finally ready (and she was So. Ready.) she actually stood up on her first try. Then she had another go, and she stood up for even longer. After that she was done, though – she was not a big fan of the water that she got up her nose when she fell.

I was intimidated when it was my turn, I have to admit. I’ve never tried wakeboarding or snowboarding. I’m not exactly what you would call super-athletic, and I’m not as young as I once was. I wanted to give wakeboarding a go, but I didn’t expect to succeed. My first two tries I wiped out spectacularly before I was even able to stand up. Rob told me to let the boat do the work, and I think I did that too well because I let the boat pull me right over.

After two epic wipeouts in a row Rob decided to pull me a little slower (actually, at exactly the same pace he’d pulled my daughter, as it turns out) and I did it! I stood up … for about one and a half seconds. Then the fourth time I stood up for a little longer. And finally, I gave it one last go, and I did it! I actually managed to wakeboard for a few minutes, as Rob coached me through the speakers in my helmet. It felt pretty good, skimming over the surface of the water, sunshine all around me, looking at the beautiful scenery. It made the eventual wipeout when I flushed out my sinus cavities with about half of Lake Osoyoos totally worth it.

osoyoos

After my last ride I was done. My arms were really aching, and I needed a rest. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold on to the rope any longer, so I got back on the boat.

My wakeboarding adventure was three days ago now, and I’m still feeling it, especially in my forearms. I’m not used to holding on to something as tightly as I held on to that rope. I’m also really glad I did it, though. As a suburban mom of two who’s in my late 30s I don’t push my physical limits or try adventure sports on a regular basis. This was a chance to step beyond my boundaries, do something totally new, and remind myself that I am capable of more than I think. And you know what? We probably all are.

Thank you so much to Rob and Wakepilot for a wonderful introduction to wakeboarding. If you want to see actual wakeboarders in action, check out this video. It’s shot at Walnut Beach Resort, which is where I stayed in Osoyoos. You can also see Rob at the end – he’s the one in blue handing out the prizes.

Wisdom From an Elementary School Principal

Every morning my son’s kindergarten class starts off with reading time for the first 15 minutes of the school day. The children choose books from the class library, and parents and family members are invited to stay and read. I try to be there as often as I can, which is two or three days a week at the moment. I enjoy spending that time with my son, and getting to know his classmates.

At least half of the time when I sit in on reading time I’m there for the morning announcements. The principal comes on the PA system and fills the school in on what to expect that day. He also shares daily tips. As I was thinking about it on the walk back from school this morning, it occurred to me that my children’s elementary school principal has a lot of wisdom to share that applies not just to children, but to everyone. Today, I thought it would be fun to share some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from those morning announcements.

lessons from elementary school principal wisdom

Wisdom From an Elementary School Principal

  • Don’t use more toilet paper than you need.
  • When you meet a stranger, greet them with a smile and share your name.
  • Eat your healthy food first.
  • Put your garbage in the garbage can.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather.
  • Everyone has more fun when you include all your friends.
  • Put first things first.
  • If you don’t understand an instruction, ask for help.
  • Take care of your things.
  • Ask before you use something that belongs to someone else.
  • Take turns doing the things your friends want to do.
  • Looking for a great book? The librarian would love to share a suggestion with you.
  • Prepare for your day before you arrive.
  • Try something new today.
  • Take care of the spaces that you use.
  • Congratulate others on their successes.
  • Never, ever throw snow, or you will have to come to my office and talk to me. (Okay, maybe this one doesn’t apply in general.)

What about you – what wisdom have you gleaned from teachers or principals?

My Writing Process

I realize it’s tedious to blog about this, but I really wish I were blogging more than I am. This is why, when the fabulous Dana at Celiac Kiddo invited me to participate in a blog tour about my writing process, I was all over it. It simplified the posting process by giving me a good, solid framework, and gave me a reason to write. The tour involves answering four questions, so I’m just going to go ahead and do that.

1. What am I working on?

Honestly, I’m mostly doing writing for school and work right now. This means churning out articles for local moms at VancouverMom.ca, and writing for the English lit and geography classes I’m taking this semester. I also blog a lot, but mostly in my head while I’m driving or in the shower. I’ve composed some great posts … they just never actually got written. I’ve also taken to composing fiction in my head recently, which is something I haven’t done for ages.

textbooks
My current writing fodder

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I honestly have no idea how to answer this one. I think all that I can say is that we all have our own unique voices, and I am no different. Beyond that? I’m not sure I even have a genre. I’m not high brow enough, since I mostly write online.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The writing I do for work and school is obligatory, for the most part. However, I do try to make it good, and I actually find that I enjoy it once I get into it. For instance, last semester I wrote a history paper about Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan that I’m rather proud of, and which I derived quite a lot of satisfaction from. The other writing I do satisfies a need inside my soul to write, even if it’s not nearly as frequent or meaningful as I would like it to be.

4. How does my writing process work?

I am the sort of person who sits down at the computer and bangs away until I have something that resembles a blog post, article or paper. When I have to submit an outline for school, I often write the paper and then go back and re-construct an outline because I find it easier to tease out a structure after the fact than to write in a methodical and organized fashion. Sometimes I’ll change subjects or tracks a number of times, deleting and re-ordering paragraphs, adding extra points and re-drafting my concluding paragraph until it’s perfect.

There are a few thing that are non-negotiable to my writing process: I need to be warm, so I keep a blanket near my chair. I like to have the radio on, even though I’m probably more productive when it’s quiet. Finally, I think I do my best of writing while I’m sipping a cup of herbal tea.

What about you – what does your writing process look like? I’d love to hear!

What I Will do This Year

Let’s just ignore the fact that it’s been more than two weeks since my last post, shall we? Home renovations are progressing (at long last), and they’ve preoccupied me. Also, I’ve been preparing to head back to school for another semester, which just started today. At the moment I’m signed up for geography and an English course on drama. In case you were wondering how last semester went, I took three classes and got two A’s and one A-, which I am very happy with. But enough with the housekeeping.

birthday year ahead navel gazing

Birthday extreme close-up

Today is my 38th birthday. For the past few years my birthdays have triggered something of an existential crisis. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that surely I should be wiser, more grounded and more accomplished at this point in my life. To help myself overcome this intense birthday navel-gazing, I like to set some personal intentions. It’s a way to give myself that direction I’m craving. It’s also a way to honour the fact that I have a whole new year stretched out before me, and I can use it however I see fit. Instead of lamenting what I haven’t done in the past year (or the past 38 years), I’m going to think about what I want to do.

For the past few years I’ve made birthday resolutions. I’ve had about a 50/50 success rate. I think that’s to be expected, especially given that things change over the course of a year. Still, even at a 50/50 success rate, I’m bringing a whole lot of things into my life that I didn’t have the year before. I believe it’s still a worthwhile exercise regardless of how it turns out, because it gives me a chance to focus on reflect, and think about what I want more of in my life. So without further ado, here’s my list for this year.


What I Will do at 38

  • Finish up the renovations that have taken almost a year, and then resist the urge to make even more home improvements.
  • Go running.
  • Spend more time with my hands in the dirt.
  • Buy a bicycle.
  • Volunteer in a middle school.
  • Sing.
  • Learn how to use my camera.
  • Write.
  • Finish my prerequisites so that I can apply for teacher training.
  • Nap more often.
  • Laugh more.
  • Apply for teacher training.
  • Try kayaking.
  • Practice forgiveness of myself and others.
  • Drink even more herbal tea.
  • Eat more leafy greens.
  • Take some mini vacations with my family.
  • Not beat myself up if I don’t do everything on this list.

What do you want to do with your next year on earth? I love it if you’d play along in honour of my birthday!

Defining Forgiveness

forgiveness friday dandelion

It’s the weekend, so I’m writing another Forgiveness Friday post. I should probably change the name of this series to Forgiveness Weekends, but I like alliteration so I’m leaving it as is. Either way, once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. Today, specifically, I’m contemplating what forgiveness means to me. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I am (very, very slowly) making my way through Forgiveness Is a Choice by Robert D. Enright. I finished school for the semester on April 11, so I’ve had a little more time to read lately. In the last chapter I finished, Enright suggested that I define forgiveness for myself by writing in a journal. Since this blog is the closest thing I have to a journal, this seemed like the best place to do it.

When I started my forgiveness journey, I was at a total loss over what the word really means. I referred to the Wikipedia entry on forgiveness, which said that forgiveness isn’t condoning, excusing, pardoning, forgetting or reconciliation. This was revelatory for me, because I have a tendency to excuse bad behaviour unless and until it passes the point of reason. It was also revelatory for me to think of forgiveness and reconciliation as different (albeit related) concepts.

Some months later, I’m still struggling to understand what forgiveness means. I have, however, made some inroads. Keeping in mind that I am not a mental health professional and I do not hold a philosophy degree, I’m going to give it a go. Here’s what I mean by forgiveness:

Forgiveness is the process of recognizing that you have been hurt through the actions of another, whether those actions and their consequences were intentional or not. Recognizing that you have been wronged, and that you are not responsible for having been hurt, in forgiving you acknowledge and deliberately let go of your anger. As you let go of your anger and hurt feelings, you are able to move forward more productively both in your relationship with the person who hurt you and in other areas of your life.

Perhaps a clearer way to explain it is to define forgiveness as a three-step process:

  1. Recognize that you have been hurt.
  2. Acknowledge your anger and hurt feelings.
  3. Release those feelings, not because the person who hurts you deserves to be forgiven, but because you freely choose to forgive.

The third step feels the hardest to me, because it begs the question of how to go about releasing those feelings. I’m coming to that part of the book, so I may have a better answer for that question soon. Right now, however, I’m doing some work on actually acknowledging that I have been hurt, and recognizing the anger I still carry around with me. It’s been surprisingly helpful.

For example, I always had a difficult relationship with my father, who passed away when I was 16. Three months ago if you’d asked me whether I was still angry with my dad I’d tell you that of course I wasn’t. I’d moved past it. However, the truth is that I have never really made my peace with my father. I’d simply decided that we didn’t have much in common and that it wasn’t worth my time to think about. In reading the book and realizing how much my relationship with my father continues to impact my life in major ways, I could see that maybe I’m not as over it as I believed. Even just seeing that, and allowing myself to the space to admit that I actually am hurt, and I have a right to be hurt, has been helpful. My hope is that by seeing it for what it is, I can actually deal with it and move on.

So, that’s where I am. I’m beginning to understand what forgiveness actually means to me. Now I just have to see how it impacts my life.

School as Childcare

school childcare parenting

This coming weekend my kids will have four days off of school, since public institutions are closed for Good Friday and Easter Monday where I live. Last weekend they got three days off, because Friday was a professional development day for teachers. The week before that was a full week where they went to school five days in a row, but it followed on the heels of a two week long Spring Break.

Chatting with other moms on the playground after school, I often hear the comment that it can feel like there are a whole lot of days when the kids aren’t in school. I can relate. Days off from school can really disrupt the usual routine with kids. As a work-at-home mom (and student) I rely on school to give me kid-free time. When my kids are out of school more, I find myself working in the evenings more, and scrambling to keep up. Many parents love that school gives them free childcare, including me.

Chatting with other people, however, I’ve noticed that many people view this tendency of parents to use school as de facto childcare negatively. I’ve heard a few comments from a number of quarters recently along the lines of, “Well, you know, many parents think school is just free daycare.”

The funny thing is that parents who extoll the virtues of school as childcare, and critics who deride the idea of school as childcare, are actually saying exactly the same thing. They may even be using exactly the same words, just with a slightly different tone of voice. There’s no dispute that some parents use school as childcare – there’s only disagreement over whether this is good or bad.

I spent the past four months studying the philosophy of education. My textbook has this to say: “… schools do as a matter of fact serve as child-minding facilities, regardless of whether that was either the community’s or the parents’ intention or wish.” I think that sums up the issue very well. When you put a whole bunch of kids in a classroom for six hours a day, five days a week (most weeks), you are freeing up their parents to do other things. If those same parents were already doing other things, you’re reducing the amount of daycare they need to pay for outside of school. Either way, the parents come to depend on school to some extent. However, it may be the case that nobody actually meant to establish a state-run free daycare system. Hence the conflict.

It’s true that my primary aim in sending my children to school isn’t for the free childcare, but for the educational benefits. It’s also true that before I had children of my own I would have viewed school-as-childcare with some level of suspicion. I likely would have thought that daycare was something that parents should handle themselves. Now that I’m a parent my opinions are different.

When my daughter Hannah turned three years old she aged out of her infant and toddler daycare centre. Her father and I had a difficult time finding a new childcare setting for her. She ended up spending six months at a local Montessori school that just wasn’t a good fit for her. At the time I was pregnant with my son Jacob, and I needed to continue working to qualify for maternity leave. While my husband and I knew that our daughter was safe and engaged at the Montessori school it was very stressful for us, because she wasn’t happy. When she got a spot at another school that was a better fit for her, it was a tremendous relief.

This is just one example of how difficult it can be to find good childcare. I’ve had other experiences, and virtually every other parent I’ve ever met has stories to share, too. It’s emotionally gruelling when your need to work conflicts with your child’s need for quality care. It’s even harder for lower-income parents, parents of special needs children and single parents. That’s what makes public school so great. The staff are highly-qualified, the program is educational, and your kids are guaranteed a free spot. It may not meet all of your childcare needs, but it meets a lot of them, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

At its root, I think the conflict comes down to the question of whether or not we believe society should be involved in childcare. It’s clear to me that we don’t believe this, speaking in broad terms. In most of Canada the daycare system is privately-run – we leave it to parents and businesses to sort it out. Some people still believe that mothers shouldn’t work, especially while their children are small. Culturally, we value self-reliance, encouraging parents to raise their own children.

Not every country holds this view, however. In Denmark, for instance, all young children have the option of enrolling in a childcare centre, and parents must not be charged more than 25-28% of the cost of the child’s care. And why do other countries provide affordable, universal childcare and early education? Because it frees parents to work and pursue outside interests, which benefits their families. Systems with more oversight tend to provide a higher level of care from more qualified staff. And children who may not otherwise have access to educational opportunities can learn. Society benefits from more educated citizens who come from more economically secure homes.

It’s true that the primary aim of school is educational. However, it serves many other purposes, some very intentional (think hot breakfast programs in inner cities) and some not so much (think making sure your child is exposed to the Rainbow Loom craze). I am inclined to think that that some of those maybe-not-so-intentional benefits of school are still very valuable, including childcare. Not every parent will take advantage of it – I know many homeschooling families who are very happy with their choice. I don’t think those of us who do rely on school for child-free time need to be embarrassed about that, though. We’re benefiting as parents, but our kids, our employers and our society are benefiting, too. These are all good things.

If you are relying on school for childcare, though, there is one thing you need to do. Keep on top of those professional development days so they don’t sneak up on you. They have a way of popping up when you least expect it, as the other moms on the playground can tell you.

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