Are You Superman’s Dad?

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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.

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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!

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You gotta love a Freezie on a hot day!

Springtime in Vancouver

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Spring sneaks into Vancouver.  You’ve got your head down, and your shoulders hunched and your hood up, when you suddenly look up and realize that the sun is shining, and Spring has ARRIVED!

For the last few days I have been working downtown, and there is nothing more beautiful, in my experience, than Vancouver in Spring sunshine.  I catch the Skytrain through New Westminster, along the huge slow Fraser River, into the bustle of Metrotown and out again, beside the peaceful parks and cycle paths.  As we reach Vancouver, the sun glints off the glass towers, the new leaves and the waves out on the water.  I stare at the new Community Garden which has sprung up on an abandoned parking lot near Science World – raised beds which a month ago were barely filled with soil, now a patchwork of shades of green .  The grass and wildflower roof of the Convention Centre is dazzling and busy with the bees from the Centre’s own hives.  The snow on the mountains, which look so close on a clear day, is almost too bright to look at.

I find myself running late for meetings as I am distracted by all the new cleanness around me.  Buildings and signs and people I have ignored over the winter are suddenly too bright and interesting not to stop and watch.  This is a city where people take cherry blossom very seriously; so seriously that it is a weekend and evening pastime to go for a Japanese-style Cherry Blossom walk.

I return home and sit in my garden, chatting to neighbours we haven’t seen since October – everyone is suddenly obsessed with gardening, everyone is growing something, even if it is just a lawn, and we compare notes and growing tips.  A queue of hummingbirds at the feeders, surprisingly noisy as they get into fights; apparently queue-jumpers exist everywhere.  We cannot wait for the full summer to arrive!  Welcome to Spring!

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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

A Walk On The Not-So-Wild Side

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We live very close to Burnaby Mountain, and we can walk to the trails that run all over the Mountain, all the way to Simon Fraser University if you like to go that far.  I took the dog for a walk on the trails the other day, and she wasn’t very willing to accompany me at one point.  I wondered if this was a Lassie moment.  Is she trying to tell me something?  A bear, Lassie?  A cougar? Or was she just objecting to the light drizzle, the increasing distance from her bed and the fact that if we use that trail, she’ll get her paws muddy?

I know I have mentioned before, probably very often, like a really boring guest at a dinner party, the bear that got into the compost bins the summer we moved here.  Then there were the reports of bob cats, cougar, lynx, and of course the coyotes, skunk and raccoons that constantly threaten our dustbins.  I am thrilled that we live in such a wild environment, and we have done everything to learn how to deal with meeting a bear, beating off a cougar or getting rid of skunk-stink, but the bottom line is that, although I am very happy they are there, I would rather the wild stayed over there.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not that crazy lady from Over The Hedge, with the security lasers, alarms and Depelter 3000.  I’m not trying to keep them away, and I am excited that my parents have had a close encounter with a bear at Whistler, that we have seen wild orcas hunting in the Straits, that the seals love chasing the Dragon Boats in False Creek, and that I occasionally get a glimpse of a solemn family of raccoons, lined up by the road.  But I’m not going looking for them.  If the wild chooses to stay away from me, I’ll return the favour and leave the critters well alone, and I know it disappoints my father in law that the Wild is not lined up by the road waving little flags to welcome him to Vancouver, but I think I know why.  It’s the reason we moved here in the first place – it’s Space.  Not the vast, dark, “to boldly go where no one..” etc Space, but the huge, rolling, wonderful regions of the completely uninhabited and uninhabitable space beyond where we are.  It means that birds do not rely on my bird feeder, hanging forlornly in the garden with no customers.  It means the squirrels couldn’t give 2 squirrel-squeaks that my bird feeder is not squirrel-proof.  It means that the wild animals can choose our company, or not, and if we are careful to avoid tempting them into our garbage, they will stay safely away and I will know they are there, but not see them.  That seems fair.

Move on, Nothing to See Here…

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Yesterday I was catching up with a bit of reading on the British Expats site.  This is a great website, with a lot of links to good blogs about moving to and living in Canada, and every one of them gets a reaction from me.  Yesterday, it was the turn of “10 Years And A Change Of Heart”, written by a couple who had moved in their 40s to the west coast of Vancouver Island, looking for the idyllic lifestyle of the holiday retreat.  Guess what they found?  First, there is no employment in idyllic rural retreats, unless you are a fisherman, writer or connected to the tourist industry.  Second, there is no-one to make friends with.  Third, there is nothing to do.  I guess everyone dreams of the quiet life.  We all imagine living on the land, going to back to basics, and sometimes we find ourselves in a place where we really imagine it can work, but usually we are on our holidays and reality is a little warped.  The lesson I took from this blog was, Be Careful What You Wish For.

Before emigrating to your dream retreat, consider the following:  What are you going to do for money?  What are you going to do for company?  What are you going to do for entertainment?  When I told my husband about the blog, he was speechless.  Then he said “Nothing to do? In Vancouver?”  No, not Vancouver.  Vancouver Island.  A space as large as the UK with the population of Cardiff.  A place where families travel every summer to their cabins, where they spend blissful months living the basic, uncomplicated life before returning to the bustle of real life.  One of the things we love about living here in Vancouver is that, if you want to get away from it all, you can.  A quick ferry ride to an island or a slow drive into the interior, and here are towns with a population of 1,000, where you can live for 20 years and still be the outsider, where the best excitement all year is when the local constable shot the cougar that had dragged a deer carcass under the next-door neighbour’s deck (this happened to a friend of mine, the day she moved to her new house with her new baby and her 2 year-old son, from the sophistication of Vancouver to the Wild West in one day).

Some days, like yesterday, when I have dropped off the youngest child at her Musical Theatre class and I am making a quick dash to the Art & Craft store for a gift card for the friend of the middle child, who must be dropped off at her party before I go to a jewellry party at my friend’s house, stopping to collect a friend of the eldest child who is coming to sleepover, but I can’t do any of these things because I am stuck in Saturday shopping traffic, nose to tail around the Mall, and I’m already late to collect the youngest… these are the times I wonder whether we are really any better off than if we lived in England.  But yesterday morning we were at the peak of Mount Seymour, playing in a pure white snowdrift and planning our next skiing trip, and this morning we were downtown, walking the seawall from Science World to Yaletown for coffee and pizza and seal-spotting.  The eldest and her friend took themselves off into the chaos of Chinatown to see the New Year Parade, to buy steamed pineapple buns and lemon triangle cake from the street vendors.  To get there, the two 14-year olds walked through the poorest area of Vancouver, and I did not feel a moment of worry for their safety.

We do not find ourselves outsiders, because in this multicultural melting pot, pretty much everyone is an outsider and we all enjoy our differences.  As Vancouver feels more and more like home, and the UK becomes a distant memory, we sometimes take our life here for granted and find ourselves grumbling.  The comforting thing is that we are grumbling about real life issues, because we are living life to the full.

Where do you dream of moving to, and is it a realistic dream?

The Ta-Dah List

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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.