Are You Superman’s Dad?


I went to see “Man Of Steel”, the latest Superman movie (some good performances, shame about the plot).  Among the good performances was the wonderful Diane Lane as Superman’s Mum.  Kevin Costner was his Dad.  He played Kevin Costner (again), but as his style tends towards the understated, dour and mumbling, he did quite well as Jonathan Kent.  Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a film review.  The movie got me thinking about what it would be like to be Superman’s Mum or Dad.  We are so used to the image of the quiet Kents raising Clark to hide his powers, control his temper and keep his head down that any alternative seems strange.  But what if Kal-el’s little baby-buggy spaceship had crash landed on someone else’s farm?  The home, perhaps, of a typical North American family.  The kind of family where Dad is a guy who loves sports, beer, bikes and trucks, and would be so excited to find out that his son could wipe the floor with any high school rival, win any sporting trophy, get into any Big League he (or Dad) chose.  The kind of family where Mum does the domestic stuff, defers major decisions to Dad, and takes her daughters to do what girls do.  What if Kal-el was not taught restraint, but pride?

Well, I have some news for all you parents of boys out there.  You ARE Superman’s parents.  There’s a good chance that one day your boy will tower over all of my three girls.  He will be bigger and stronger than his own father, capable of doing real damage, should he so choose.  If you have raised him to glory in his strength, revel in his power and believe in his entitlement and his superiority, then he is pretty much capable of anything.

So how about this for a deal?  I promise I will teach my girls to empathize with boys, to understand that they also have to deal with many challenges as they grow up.  I will teach them not to simper, tease or send mixed messages.  I will teach them that they can have friends who are boys, and enjoy activities which might also be enjoyed by boys, without having to have a boyfriend.  In return, I hope that you will teach your boys empathy, respect for all people, and restraint.  Teach them that girls, and women, make good friends before they become lovers, and the best marriages come from joining hands with your best friend forever.  Teach them that pink is just a colour, and colours don’t belong to anyone.  Teach them that a good education, leading to the ability to hold an interesting conversation, is very attractive.  Teach them that with great power comes great responsibility, and they must not use their physical power to make a point or win an argument.


The Best Weekend Of The Year

Canada Day

I have decided that this is the best weekend of the year.  Better than Halloween, better than Christmas, better than my birthday.  This is the weekend of:

  • School Is Out!
  • The Sun Is Coming!
  • Unexpected Holiday!
  • Endless possibilities abound….!

The first year we lived in Canada, we were horrified at the thought of nearly 10 weeks of summer holiday.  How is anyone expected to manage a full time job and afford childcare for that length of time?  The following year we booked every child into every camp possible, and they went back to school in September more tired than they had been in June.  Now we are seasoned, experienced, and almost Canadian.  It helps that our children are old enough to babysit each other, and had been studying karate long enough to inflict discipline on each other without too much real injury.  The prospect of watching them spend the hot months chilling, cycling, swimming and doing what kids are supposed to do (“Stop that, put it down, you don’t know where it’s been, NOW look what you did to your new sandals…”), is just bliss.

Recently we shared a picture on Facebook.  This is what the start of our summer has been like, but it is still better than Juneuary last year, when we were still wrapped in our polar outfits and snow boots, and at least we are not underwater like parts of Alberta.  Summer

This year the rain has meant that everything I planted in the garden, and many things I did not plant (we have an Accidental Pumpkin patch in the area where I spread my home made compost.  I forgot I had put all 7 Halloween pumpkins with their seeds in the compost last November), are growing, and the time of sitting and appreciating the growth, with a little light harvesting, weeding and reseeding, has arrived.  July and August are generally scorching, and the amount of ground water means I may not have to water the lawn or beds for some time.

The Unexpected Holiday is Canada Day.  You don’t realize until you move from the UK how your body has become attuned to the seasons with their high days and Bank Holidays.  I feel a little wrench at the beginning of May when I realize that it’s Spring Bank Holiday, but I am at work.  But that is completely overwhelmed, when you have been dragging yourself and your children to the end of the school year (“Just 3 more days… just one more teacher gift… just one more awards ceremony… I really don’t care where your planner or lunch box have gone, you only have 2 more days at school…”), when you realize that it’s Canada Day Weekend!  Break out the wine and the barbeque!

And now the endless possibilities… tomorrow I am going to load my grumbling husband and happy dog into the car and drive away.  I will leave a note for the children, which will say “Your parents have run away.  You must solve the clues and find them or your college funds are in jeopardy.”  There will be clues to lead them to the Skytrain, along the waterfront, into Stanley Park and round the seawall.  A real adventure to start the holiday, with a picnic and ice cream at the end.   Later in the holiday we will go berry picking, camping, climb the Stawamish Chief, explore Simon Fraser University campus, shop for new school supplies and clothes and backpacks, paint the shed, create a mural of salmon on the wall of the house that faces the salmon creek – or do none of the above.  The kids will play in the street with other kids, and we’ll dish out freezies, After Bite and bandaids in equal quantities.  Before we know it, we will be back in school and greeting our old friends, and loving the run up to Halloween and Christmas!


You gotta love a Freezie on a hot day!

For the love of Grannies….

Two Grans

Gran Nicol and Gran Howcroft circa 1966

Today would have been my Gran Nicol’s 97th Birthday.  She died in 2011, (see this post), but her influence and that of her long term friend and rival, Gran Howcroft, is with me forever.

I was truly blessed with 2 strong, loving, intelligent and occasionally eccentric grandmothers, and 3 wonderful grandfathers.  While we were children, Gran Nicol was definitely front-runner in the Best Gran Stakes.  She lived in a seaside town, with a sandy beach, ice cream stands, plastic buckets and spades and wonderful promenade lights in the summer.  The houses were large and comfortable, and near to the rest of the family – a strange collection of elderly spinster aunts ruled over by our great grandmother and great grandfather, who loved to buy us bubble mixture and challenge us to catch the bubbles, blow bigger ones, land them on our noses – wonderful, loving and fun people.  Gran once explained her expanding waistline by saying that a real grandmother should be cuddly, “not like that bony old thing over in Surrey.”

That bony old thing was Gran Howcroft – tall, strong, loud and opinionated (think Julia Child and Barbara Woodhouse combined).  She was a professional artist, avid gardener, tennis and badminton player.  Into her 80s she was a volunteer with Meals On Wheels, delivering meals to people younger than herself, despite being a terror behind the wheel of her car.  Visits to her house were fraught with danger.  She kept dogs and vicious, anti-social cats, and the house was coated in pet hair.  Food was frequently out of date, so poisoning was a constant risk.  She made no concessions to small children, so there were no toys or games but we were permitted to play gently and quietly with a dolls house, and she made sure there was a new piece whenever we visited.  There were also a number of beautiful puzzle boxes – souvenirs from her travels with The Penguin (Grandad Howcroft).

As I approached teenage, Gran Nicol moved from the seaside town to our neighbourhood.  Although I missed the holidays, she was available as I transitioned to high school and became a difficult teen.  She patiently listened to my angry rants, fed me coffee cake, drove me home when I had missed the bus.  She introduced me to the therapeutic benefits of gardening, she told me I was beautiful when I was at my most awkward and she pushed me to push myself academically.  At the same time, Gran Howcroft came into her own as a guide and mentor.  She could discuss current affairs and art, challenge me to think critically and she demanded that I exceed my own expectations.

A few days ago, I was chatting to a friend who is a Grandmother.  Her grandchildren live in Munich and she was describing how she sends them letters and parcels at least once a week, misses them desperately, but visits at least once a year.  One of the most common worries we hear from new expats, and one of the reasons an emigration may not “stick” is the draw that family has; you truly may not miss them until they are out of reach.  North America is a good place to find people in a similar situation, however.  Families are often separated by thousands of miles, seeing each other once or twice a year for busy family holidays.  The Great Canadian Roadtrip is often a result of children moving away, across the whole continent, and discovering that the cheapest way of visiting Grandma and Grandad for Thanksgiving is to drive there.  I remembered that, when I moved from home to college and then onward, my Grandmothers were great letter writers.  They wrote about real issues; faith, careers, education, relationships and family.  Gran Nicol, in particular, took upon herself the responsibility of ensuring that all her grandchildren were always up to date on the news from other branches of the family; she held us together and kept the family close, even when we were scattered around the country and, eventually, the globe.  We spent much of our married life away from our close families, and our children had little opportunity to get to know their grandparents well, but they always knew who they were, even as babies.  It seems that distance does not need to affect family.  You can still be the Best Gran (or Grandad), you can still spoil your grandchildren, you can still tell them you love them through email, Skype, You Tube, Twitter, letter… Take the time to keep in touch, take an interest in their interests, and never assume that your views and opinions are not relevant.  Even the smallest contact is important when distance is involved.

“To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” Phyllis Theroux

The Ta-Dah List


This Saturday I woke with a sense of doom.  It was a beautiful day, the sun was streaming through the trees overlooking the rushing creek outside the window, I had slept in and now I had to write my To Do List.  What I wanted to do was drink a cup of tea in bed, phone my Mum for a chat, then phone my best friend to consult on Christmas presents for the kids, take a slow shower and walk the dog in the first sun we had seen for over a week.  But I haven’t been home at the weekend for 3 weeks and it’s the last weekend before the first in December – that’s the weekend to declutter and clean the house before the Christmas decorations clutter it up again.  Also we started decorating the girls’ bedroom weeks ago, and it had to be finished.  I knew what I would do, because it’s the same thing I do every weekend – write a long To Do List, rush through the day and then feel frustrated when I look at the list on Sunday evening and see all the unfinished jobs.

My husband came to the rescue.  “We’re not doing a To Do List,” he announced.  “We’re going to do a Ta-Dah List.”  I sat in bed and drank tea and chatted.  The whole family walked the dog and went further than we would have done if I had been rushing back to do the next thing on the list.  I pottered in the garden.  We finished the bedroom.  We cooked and ate a roast dinner, drank wine, played board games and watched silly films.  On Sunday evening Dim presented me with my Ta-Dah List – everything we had done, carefully written down with tick boxes all neatly ticked.  I felt really productive.

What I Did On My Summer Holidays…

Once I was going to write a blog about seasons, and how lovely it is to live in a country with some.  Then the weather went screwy, it rained for 6 months solid, and I thought I’d better keep quiet.  But the sun came out in July, just as the school holidays started, and we had 2 solid months of really hot sun, long days and warm nights.  The west coast is breezy and fresh, never humid, and there is always water to head to if the heat becomes too much.  Today the rain returned, for the first time since July 22nd, and I wanted to reflect on our lovely summer.  So, this is what we did during our summer holidays…

Dinner by the fire at Deception Pass, WA

Tie-dyeing teeshirts at the Township 7 Winery

Raccoon hats and strange machines at Fort Langley

A free Vancouver Symphony Orchestra concert at Deer Lake

Swimming and jumping off the dock and more swimming everywhere there was water….

Beachcombing at Porteau Cove

Sailing School at Port Moody

And enjoying our garden as it grew, and grew and grew!

What did you do this summer?

Schooldays… finally

Back to School

Nine weeks of summer holidays has flown past (no, really), and here we are in the “OMG One Week Left?” phase.  The Weasels are either going to try and pack in everything they thought they would like to do 10 weeks ago, but have been too lazy to organize, or they are going to lie about like dead bumblebees, complaining of boredom.

Laurel is going into Grade 9, her second year of high school, so she is looking forward to sneering at the terrified Grade 8ers, but still junior enough to be a newbie herself.  Katie will be in Grade 6, two years off graduating from elementary and still very much at home in the laid-back lifestyle of the junior school.  Lily is in Grade 3, with years before she needs to worry about anything much.

At dinner tonight, Dim asked where Laurel would have been if we had stayed in England, and we were all brought up short by the answer, once we worked it out.  She would be Year 10, her final year of intense tuition before her GCSE year which is mostly revision and exams from January onward.  She would be one year off the magical “Sixteen” when, according to UK 15-year olds I have spoken to recently, the Government recognizes you as an adult, you can leave school, leave home, get married, legally smoke, and generally put aside all childish things, including any pretense at respect for your parents.  Phew.

Katie’s friends in the UK are preparing themselves for their first day at Secondary School; all those tiny, skinny, prepubescent kids, mixed in with the giants of Year 11.  I look at my little girl and shudder at the thought of her trying to find her way in that world.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not overprotective, but I want my weasels to enjoy their childhood, to play and have fun for as long as possible.

So, when Laurel’s friends in the UK are finishing their A Levels, she’ll just be graduating from high school, ready to start 2 years of college courses, followed by at least 4 years of university.  While she is doing that, she will volunteer for charity organizations, take leadership roles in summer camps, find work in retail and sports, and develop a (hopefully) impressive resume.  We also hope that she will continue to spend time with us and her sisters, waiting to fly away when she, not society, feels the time is right.

Tangentially, children…

Sometimes I wander off the point a little.  My friends and colleagues are used to this, so you, dear reader, must get used to it also.  Today’s post is not about emigrating to Vancouver or the wonders of British Columbia but about parenting (the last time I did this was Eating the Elephant).

We like our children to at least attempt to be helpful.  I am a traditional parent who, when I see a pack of squabbling weasels, will find work for them.  I give out chores.  Yesterday Laurel, eldest weasel, was mooching about in a teenage way, while I was shifting a truckload of top soil into the vegetable garden.  “Laurel” I yelled “Can you bring me the seed potatoes which are sprouting on the windowsill?”  She did.  She took my seed potatoes, carefully sorted into groups by variety, piled them all into one container and brought them to me.  “Which ones are the Warba?” I asked “Huh?” she said.

Later I was marking out a circle for a new bed.  I asked her to make a string compass – peg, piece of string, hammer peg in ground, lay paving stones in circle marked by end of string.  She created her compass from a stretchy piece of fabric, and marked 2 lines on it.  One half of the bed was measured to one line, then she got bored and moved to the other side and used the other line.  It’s an interesting shape, but it’s not a circle. Huh.

In the evening, I asked her to make some cookies for lunch boxes.  “If you want to make triple chocolate ones, swap 2 tablespoons of flour for 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder” I suggested.  This evening, after dinner, she was nibbling at one.  “These are very solid and bitter,” she complained “must be all the cocoa powder.”  “How much did you put in?” I asked.  “I swapped the flour for cocoa, like you said.” “What?  ALL the flour?” “Duh, yeah. Like you said.” “I said 2 TABLESPOONS!” “Huh.”

Then she went off to practise a bit more slouching.  Huh.Image